Monday, March 10, 2014

Say wha?

By Pamela

Last week author Kelly Corrigan came to Dallas and unfortunately, we weren't able to hear her speak but I did enjoy this TEDx talk Susan told me about. If you have a few minutes, it's certainly worth your time to listen to her speak about literacy and what impact reading has on your life.

Here are some startling statistics she shares:

  • After high school, 33% of graduates never read a book.
  • After college, that number jumps to 42%.
  • When the state of Arizona forecasts the number of beds they'll need for their prisons, they look to the number of kids in fourth grade who read well.
  • The number one cause of divorce: poor communication. 
  • The number one predictor of occupational success is vocabulary. 

It's no secret that reading results in a better command of language, and Kelly goes on to talk about how reading builds vocabulary. I'm so grateful my young life began with a mother who read to me. I went on to love reading on my own and count my school librarians as some of my favorite educators. Today, I don't read as much as I wish, but no place feels more like 'home' to me than snuggling up with a book.

If you are a parent, you have the awesome responsibility of fostering a love of reading in your child. My three started out gnawing on board books and eventually 'cut their teeth' on reading solo the BOB Books and later Berenstain Bears and Dr. Seuss. When we closed the cover on one story, we often switched on a CD to listen to Junie B. Jones' antics (Lana Quintal is fabulous!) or The Boxcar Children as they drifted off to sleep. While it's too soon to see if they'll become a statistic and not read after college, I certainly hope they'll love to read as adults.

I think Kelly's comments about communication resonated the most with me, and at times I'll write a word and pause to consider 'Is this the best word? Is this really what I'm trying to say?' and it's not about using a big $5 word either--one that looks or sounds impressive. Simple, direct, succinct can go a long way in communicating my ideas. Like my girl said the other day: "I possess an amazing vocabulary ... in other words ... I know a lot of words."

Writers need to communicate not only their ideas to readers but also to those with whom they interact. If you're part of a writing critique group, expressing yourself effectively is key to not only giving feedback but receiving it as well. If you hand off your work to a reader for critique, are you expecting a line edit? A copy edit? Changes tracked? Overall impression? The same goes with giving feedback to someone else. Make sure you outline your expectations and ask what's expected in return.

Joan and I recently participated in a webinar which included an agent's 'critique' of the first two pages of our manuscripts. We both got ours back the other day with similar feedback--what we considered to be fairly nonspecific comments at the bottom of the second page. Apparently 'critique' can be interpreted many different ways and we, perhaps unjustly, expected something more than we received.

So, before this becomes a post about how reading affects how we drive, what we eat, who we marry and where we vacation (trust me, I think I can connect these dots), I'll close with a final caveat: You'll never regret time spent reading--to your child, by yourself, to an elderly friend. The challenge begins with: What should I read next?


  1. I thought Kelly Corrigan's TED talk was so interesting. Sad statistics about reading.

    Her talk made me think hard about vocabulary and communication. I sometimes find myself not saying exactly what I mean - and wondering why the other person doesn't get me. :)

    1. I think you do a great job communicating. I think some of us are just better on paper than in person. Especially in the heat of the moment. So many times I wish I had a rewind button so I could go back and say what I really meant to.

  2. "When the state of Arizona forecasts the number of beds they'll need for their prisons, they look to the number of kids in fourth grade who read well."

    You mean good readers end up in prison? We're doomed! :-)

    1. I'm pretty sure she meant 'the number of kids in fourth grade who DON'T read well" or maybe that determines how FEW beds they'll need. But, yes. If good readers end up in prison, here's hoping the library there is awesome!


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