I love to read… (or, please don’t take my books away for the sake of pushing the iPad on me)

You know, I truly love reading. I always have – my grandparents started me early, and I have a vivid memory of reading Tolkien’s The Hobbit in about 3rd grade. I was captivated by the characters – and scared by them as well. I’ve learned, I’ve traveled, I’ve been brought to tears, I’ve been inspired, I’ve been scared, and I’ve escaped — all through the power of words and the ability of some incredible writers to take me to a different place.

I try to impart this love of reading on my students each and every day. I think it’s important that we impress upon our students that we can find whatever we want on the pages of books that are at our disposal at all times. But I’m worried about where we are heading with technology. I’m all for using available tech in order to reach a reluctant reader. I’m just not sure that we need to believe that this is the absolute future, so to speak. I’ve heard constantly that the iPad will streamline reading in classrooms – that it will save money and that it will be the vehicle for all to read. I’m just not so sure about this. And I would also like to make it clear that I have no problems using them as a supplement, just not a replacement.

First of all, they are pretty darn expensive. Yeah, yeah, yeah – I know – so is a class set of Elements of Literature — and let me go on record as saying I’m also not a fan of using the anthologies (first and foremost because I think they lead to laziness on the part of the teacher). But there’s a lot more involved in that brilliant piece of technology that starts at $499 per. Are we getting class sets or are we getting one per student? Are we letting the students take them home or are they to remain in the room? To me, this is the crux. Schools will argue for class sets – that this is all that’s needed – that this is the way to save. But lost in this argument is the idea of instructional time. Now my students will need to be provided the time to read in class – valuable instructional time that’s now been taken away. Valuable time where learning is fostered is now lost to what will be nothing more than a gimmick to many, leading to even more laziness. Beyond this, let’s take a look at support for the technology. Who’s going to take care of these? The way I see it, we’d be lucky to get three years out of each – maybe a little longer if we’re very diligent with their upkeep and care. I’ve seen this to be the case with most laptop carts we’ve had in our district. Try as we may, we’re still dealing with students who aren’t always the most careful when handling technology, no matter how thorough the teacher is in promoting their care.

And while I’m sure that some schools have seen success in their use, let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that this is always going to be the case. Seton Hill University unrolled a promotion this year in which every single incoming freshman received both an iPad and a 13″ MacBook pro. Don’t get me wrong, it’s enticing, and most incoming freshmen probably don’t realize that these weren’t truly just given to them. I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to speak to some former students attending Seton Hill, but came across an article entitled Reacting to the iPads that was recently published in the Setonian Online. Read it and you’ll see some mixed reviews. The possibilities are certainly endless, but you’ll see students who aren’t necessarily using them for their intended purpose: “I really like the iPad, I just don’t see the necessity of it. I love technology, so I’m definitely not complaining, but I don’t use it much for school work,” freshman Laura Homison said. (Bonus point opportunity to the first of my Mass Media or Yearbook students who happens to read this and brings that quote in rewritten the proper way according to AP style…)

Now let’s be fair. For every Laura Homison, there’s probably another student who is using the iPad “properly.” But I also think there’s something to be said in the following taken from the article: Most textbooks for the iPad also lack tools for highlighting and annotating text. I know, I know, I’m not letting my students write in the books we have for their use. But at the college level, when students are paying for each book, this is an advantage that comes along with each purchase.

In my teaching career of 13 years I’ve noticed a sharp rise in the amount of students who are reading for pleasure and I think that this is partly due to the Harry Potter series as well as the Twilight series, despise them as I may. I have to give them their due, however, as they have both persuaded many reluctant readers to find something else to read after they’ve finished them – the gateway to more reading, if you will. Pretty hard to begrudge them for this, no matter how sick I am of sorcerers, werewolves, and vampires.

And I’m a tech kind of guy, so please don’t take this as me being against the use of technology in the classroom, I’m just not much for the use of this technology as a replacement for hard copies of books. There’s something to be said about having that tangible copy of The Book Thief in hand. Being a collector of books, there’s something to be said to see them accumulate, knowing you’ve accomplished something as you put each newly finished book in its proper place on the shelf. As I’ve moved around through the years I can tell you without a doubt how cumbersome my book collection has become to both pack and unpack. But I can also tell you how much I have looked forward to unpacking the books from their boxes and getting them organized in their new home.

I think it’s important that we model a love of reading for our students. It’s important for them to see us as readers and to also see that we pursue lifelong learning through reading – in whatever type of genre that may be. And it’s important that your librarian is as militant in her love of books as ours is at Greensburg Salem. If you don’t have a Carrie Vottero in your school’s library, you’re missing out. Truly.

As for my favorites, well, I’m asked this a lot. In the picture below can be seen the books I most frequently recommend, with the exception of the aforementioned The Book Thief, which is currently on loan to a student. Each of these books has helped to form who I am, has gotten me to where I am today. (From left to right: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Le Petit Prince, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (graphic novel form), The Hunger Games, Native Son, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, The Catcher in the Rye, On the Road, High Fidelity, The Big Sleep, Road to Perdition, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Steppenwolf)

I once attended a conference for teachers of Journalism and had the opportunity to hear Thomas French, formerly of the St. Petersburg Times, speak. He provided us with a handout that summed up what writing was to him. At first, coming from a comics writer, I discounted it as not possibly being serious enough. The more I thought of it, though, the more I realized the idiocy of this thought process. At the simplest level, Dennis O’Neill, in his forward to The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics, nails what he expects of a text when he reads anything. It’s something that’s stuck with me ever since and I’ll leave you with it. If you’ve gotten to this point in the post, you deserve the reward of something great, as opposed to my rambling on and on…

“Here’s what I’d like you to do for me: Make me laugh.  Make me cry.  Tell me my place in the world.  Lift me out of my skin and place me in another.  Show me places I have never visited and carry me to the ends of time and space.  Give my demons names and help me to comfort them.  Demonstrate for me possibilities I’ve never thought of and present me with heroes who will give me courage and hope.  Ease my sorrows and increase my joy.  Teach me compassion.  Entertain and enchant and enlighten me. Tell me a story.”

10 thoughts on “I love to read… (or, please don’t take my books away for the sake of pushing the iPad on me)

  1. That’s actually a pretty solid argument against technology for technology’s sake. Although, I still think physical books will go the way of the CD in another ten to twenty years. Maybe sooner.

    This probably isn’t the correct forum to ask this but what’s your take on the “automobile junkyard” section of Steppenwolf? I read it about six years ago and I could never figure out what Hesse was getting at with that part.

  2. Thanks, Scott. I’d like to tell you that I have some great insight on the section you’re talking about, but I don’t. In fact, I never quite understood it myself. As for physical books being replaced, I’m sure that it’s going to happen sooner or later, and it’s going to be very painful for this guy. The idea of using technology just to saw we’re using technology is a topic I plan to expound upon in a future post.

  3. I have to say I am torn over a few things you have said Jeremy. First off, as an English degree holder myself, I too love books. But I also embrace technology. As a mother of two small sons, I enjoy seeing them read, whether its on the laptop or from a book–the love of reading is what truly matters. And with both of my boys being severely near-sighted, the use of electronic readers helps them to see the print in larger form and therefore by more comfortable in their usage of it. And I do have to say too, that your last quote from Dennis O’Neill is so rue. But I want to take it back to your distaste for the Harry Potter and Twilight series. As a long married mother of two, you sometimes forget the early years of your romance, when there was no mortgage, no PTO–all that mattered was the two of you. And I have to say that while I was completely against it at first, the Twilight books help take you back to the days when all that mattered were the two of you. It may sound corny, but its how I feel. Keep up the insightful work…

  4. Cherie –
    I understand what you’re saying completely – I tried, and I mean really tried to read the Harry Potter series, but I just couldn’t get into it. As for Twilight, it’s just the hysteria surrounding it that’s driven me nuts. Besides this, we all know that there hasn’t been anything good dealing with vampires since The Lost Boys! You brought up an interesting point concerning your sons and being near-sighted. I hadn’t thought of this. Does the school they attend offer large print copies of the books they are reading? This might also be something to look into. At any rate, thanks for reading and thanks for commenting as well – definitely made me think of something in a different light.

  5. Technology is not replacing reading it is just updating the tool needed to do that. I wonder if there were people who claimed to love the “feel and smell” of scrolls in Gutenberg’s time. They must have supported all the monk scribes for a long time until the printed word finally took hold.
    We can’t force a generation to accept the tools with which we are comfortable. They have their own comfort zones with technology that is familiar to them.

  6. I will go kicking and screaming *if* books are one day officially replaced by technology. I love technology. I’m a computer geek. I believe that writing and reading on the computer can be a very efficient process. But I loathe reading books or long passages on my laptop.

    I have a lot of mixed feelings about technology in the classroom. Since I have a class set of laptops in my classroom I feel compelled to use them. But I’d much rather have my students write in a notebook instead of taking the time to get the laptops, log in, go to GoogleDocs (or wherever they are taking notes), etc. Not to mention that the network fails quite often, and even if it doesn’t fail, it slows when 25 students are all trying to access the same webpage.

    Yesterday I asked my students whether they would like me to give them a hard copy of their Unit Guides or whether they just want me to post them on the class website. All but one of my students wanted hard copies, and insisted on hard copies for any assignments that we get. It seems that while technology is great, the more I post on online and the less I physically give them, the more confused and disorganized they get. (And these are my advanced level students.)

    So my point is that while I think technology is fast and efficient, I just don’t think it’s the end-all-be-all here. I think there is still a lot of value in a physical book, a pen, and paper.

  7. I’m with you Jeremy, I love books. I love sifting through piles of old books, thumbing through individual ones. I love having stacks of books around the house waiting to be read. I even love the mildly torturous game I play with myself ever time I pick my next book to read. I love donating books to my local library, thinking that someone else will get to experience something I enjoyed.

    I also love technology and what it can do for us. I have been resistant to some of the new tech- texting and Facebook being the biggest examples, but I have come around and I really like both of them now. I try to live by one simple rule when it comes to technology- make sure the technology works for me and I don’t work for it. I refuse to get tied to my smart phone, computer or DVR.

    When it comes to the e-readers and iPads I have a bit of a contradictory opinion. I think they are great for newspapers and magazines, but I have my doubts as far as books. I have been thinking about this and I’m pretty sure I know why I feel this way. As someone who loves books this technology makes books more disposable and therefore less cherished. I think the technology will eventually replace the actual books, so all I can hope for is that future generations find their own way to view books as the wonderfully valuable gifts that they are.

    I like seeing what you are currently reading and what is in your To-Read pile. I have the Jon Krakauer book about Pat Tillman very high on my waiting list, so I would love to hear what you think about his mothers book when you finish. Also, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” is one of my favorite reads of the past year. And as much as my wife and I both fell head over heels in love with the entire Harry Potter universe, I think that Neil Gaiman should be way more well known than J.K. Rowling.

    I love your blog. Keep up the good work.

    • Josh – thanks for checking the blog out and the compliments. I started Where Men Win Glory by Krakauer and put it down – but have friends who loved it. Unlike his other works (which I’ve loved), I just couldn’t get in to it. Perhaps after I get through the books in that picture, I’ll try it again. The book I’m reading by Tillman’s mother definitely has piqued my interest again, that’s for sure – there’s no way in the world that what the Army says happened, happened.

  8. Pingback: Web 2.0 has ruined the next generation « Sinking & Swimming

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