Episode 5 Meredith Lewis
9:15PM Dec 9, 2020
Hello, hello hello amazing listeners. This is Out Loud in the Library a Durham Tech Library podcast. I'm your host, Courtney Bippley, Reference Librarian extraordinaire. And today's library updates are that we just got a shipment of new books. There are some really great ones in this batch like Mexican Gothic by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, That Can Be Arranged by Huda Fahmy, and so many more. Check out our blog linked in the show notes for a more complete list. The last day that the library will be open for the year is December 17th. So if you hurry, you can check out some books to read over winter break, we will be back on January 4th, 2021. Alas, that does mean that this is the last podcast episode of the year. But fear not! The podcast, will be back in the spring semester, I'm already lining up guests. So if you want to be on the podcast or know someone you think should be on the podcast, reach out and let me know. My email address is in the show notes. Today's interview is with fellow librarian Meredith Lewis, she is the creator of the Read Great Things Challenge here at the Durham Tech Library. If you haven't heard of it, it's a challenge with 12 categories. And you try to read a book that fits for at least 10 of the categories, we do allow double dipping, so a strategic reading list could get you the prize with just five books. The prize is a bookmark and a mask and bragging rights. The deadline to submit your completion form is December 31st. So there's still time to finish. I hope you enjoy listening.
Tell me about the reading challenge. This is the third year we've been doing it right, at the library, or is it the fourth?
This might actually be the fourth year that we've been doing it. Reading challenges by themselves are not, you know, a new thing. And when you're a librarian, oftentimes people both want to talk to you about reading and both want to confess, like how bad they feel for not reading. And so you know, I kept thinking about the confessional part, since we work in a college, right. Most of especially the employees, we've read a lot to get here, you know, but oftentimes, like life, or especially when/if you're earning additional degrees, like we have a lot of people who are going for like an additional master's degree or master's certification or even getting their PhD. And our students know this too. And we know this when we've been students that sometimes, even if you remember liking to read, you don't make time for it, especially recreational reading, because it kind of starts to feel like work. And so there were a lot of people who were essentially confessing that they missed reading. And sometimes when you do things kind of as a supportive group, it makes it easier to do. And so Stephen, one of the other librarians, and I were talking one day. And he says that I came up with the idea, but I think he helped. I want to give credit where credit's due. And we were discussing the idea of a reading challenge. We're like, you know, I mean, why not just try it, because what's the worst that happens, the worst that happens is-
Nobody does it.
Nobody participates. And then it's a year long project that we don't do again. So the way that we measure participation is who fills out the form at the end of the year. And that's pretty much all we have, right. And so the first year only about 50 people filled out the completion form. And the second year, it was up to 75. And so-
Yeah, and you know, and that's just completing. So what we wanted to do was like Pop Sugar, and other websites and stuff have huge challenges that are super specific.
And really difficult. The Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. Oh, my goodness.
iI is too hard, too hard. Well, unless you're already reading like 100 books a year, which good for you. I consider myself now a pretty big reader, but I'm not hitting 100 books, because I still like to watch TV, sometimes the same things over and over again, mind you, but I still like to watch TV. And I do like to read but some of the categories are just too specific. So when we were thinking about trying to figure out how to support and encourage a community of readers and create this challenge as one of the functions of this community of readers, and I'm going to keep using that phrase because that essentially is what it's about. You've got a group of people who are going for the same challenge. That's a little bit of a challenge, like, if you are a super busy person, if you read five strategically chosen books, which can be a good amount of time, if you choose five strategic books, then you are opting into this challenge. And it's kind of nice to have that as a point of discussion like across departments. And we do have a lot of people across the college and a lot of different functions and a lot of different departments and a lot of different roles who are participating in this. It has been more successful with faculty and staff so far, and I would love for it to be more successful with students. But as we all know, it's really hard to get the word out and also time crunch, right?
So if you've got a lot of other demands on your time, including a lot of academic reading, then sometimes it can be hard to get in there. And so it's nice to have that touchstone though. And we do have several students who are really enthusiastic about completing, and they don't even care about the prizes. They're just excited that there's a challenge every year, and I've reached out to them before I'm like, you know, we've got a mug this year, and they're just like, No, I just really like the categories. Looking forward to next year. And so you know, like, we've got the categories for people who kind of like to challenge themselves on their own, but then we have a little something at the end for people who need or want, heck, I want a little tangible thing to that reward, because you win by picking books and finishing them. That's it. So yeah, that was a very long answer to your question. So that's the reading challenge. And that's kind of its origin. And that's kind of its purpose. In general, we purposefully don't go for like reading levels or anything like that. Because first of all, read what you want. If you are choosing to read then choose what you want. And this can also be a family challenge as well. And we have had several family members. So people's children complete the challenge as well. Yeah, cuz I mean, I think it is a little bit about I think it is a lot about community, you know, like you're joining in as part of this and like you, you know that other people are doing it too.
It's a great conversation starter. Are you doing the reading challenge? What did you read for this category? I'm having trouble finding a book for this other category. You know, what did what did you read for that one?
Yeah, great thrill of my life is some of my co workers who I've connected with on Facebook, when I see them talking about the reading challenge, it makes me feel very good. Because it feels more real. When when you're heading something when you're working on something and you care about it. You wonder how other people are perceiving it. And so it's nice to see those conversations happen. And I think that sometimes people just want to talk about what they're reading, not necessarily recommended. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. But I think people want to talk about what they're reading, and people want to hear what other people are reading. And it's just again, it's that community aspect where you want to feel like you're a part of something and not everybody either lives with or their immediate friends are readers as well. I'm not into read shaming, like, Look, if you're if reading is not your hobby, fine, cool, don't poopoo on other people want to read though, I'm not gonna play video games, I don't like them, I am bad at them. So they do not make me feel good about myself. This hobby is not for me. So don't poopoo on other people's hobbies, you know, like be kind to other people's hobbies, you do find a lot of people who are very anti-reading and that's it makes me a little sad. But whatever.
The reading challenge is about supporting people in their reading goals. And that usually means reading more than they are. And generally people take it as a given that reading more is good, but they can't necessarily explain why. Do you have your own explanation for why reading is a good thing to do?
Well, I mean, there are a lot of if you want like statistics and stuff, I'm not going to give you statistics because honestly that snobbys it up, and there are actually a lot of really well documented reasons to read and to read more. First of all, reading more makes you a better reader reading. It's not something that you come out of the womb getting ready to be like, Oh, I wonder when they'll read first, you know, it's something that we do learn and it is a skill that needs practice. And so anybody who has ever read a scholarly journal article, and then has had to practice reading scholarly journal articles, I mean, like the first time you look at it, even if it is in your discipline, it's work. It is a slog, but you learn the patterns and you learn the routines and you learn the words and you learn the structure. And you know, it's the same for fiction and nonfiction too. And so if you want to be a better reader, if you want reading to be easier, you practice and that can also be figuring out like how do you need to adapt certain types of things. So like if you're reading for information if you're reading nonfiction, learning to read a more dense history book, even if you're super interested in trying to figure out like, well, how can I process and remember this information that is important to me. And that goes along with both academic reading and recreational reading, if we're looking at some of the other big things that happen when you do read, depending upon what you're choosing to read, reading, and especially reading fiction can be a huge boon for empathy development, especially when you're reading about other people and other experiences that you yourself have not experienced. And so there's a big push, rightfully so because the publishing industry, you know, the gatekeepers of books, is totally homogenous, not totally, but like very, very homogenous. And so allowing people, allowing different people, to tell their own stories, this is called Own Voices, at least, that's the kind of publishing and genre term. And it may or may not be on the 2021 reading challenge as a category, hint, hint. But empathy development, understanding other people, and it doesn't have to be realistic fiction, either. When we're looking at science fiction or fantasy, oftentimes, there are structures that mimic the real world. But when we try to understand people, and we see different perspectives, even keep in mind that empathy is not about liking people, empathy is about understanding and relating to them. So like when you have a villain who is the main character, trying to understand where they're coming from, or when you have someone who has a different upbringing, you have someone who lives on a spaceship, what might that be like? That's not own voices. That's just empathy development. I think that the two biggest things like why, why read more, are because you become better. And because honestly, empathy is a huge thing. And we can't experience everything, but we can try to understand others. And you know, if you can't afford a trip around the world, you can afford a trip to the library. Because Hint, Hint, as long as you bring our stuff back, it's free.
Yes, and I know you've talked before about cognitive closure, and how reading can help improve, basically, tolerance of not knowing the answer, or the ending of something.
Yeah. So cognitive closure is this idea that essentially, not everything is wrapped up with a nice bow at the end, right. And so in stories, it's fine to want all of your loose ends wrapped up in a movie, it's fine. But in life, we know that that is not how it works. And so reading can increase your tolerance in real life for lack of cognitive closure. So essentially, if you're thinking about life in terms of black and white versus gray, you don't have to like it. But it increases your tolerance for the fact that life is very gray, and outcomes are very gray. And again, don't have to like it, but it can increase your tolerance for that. And people who have a higher tolerance for a lack of cognitive closure tend to be able to cope and adapt a little bit better. And again, that doesn't mean it's perfect, but it's one of those nice little benefits, right?
And again, you don't have to like it, you can still be grumpy that there is no clear right answer, but,
Yeah, I mean, same. Look, I understand that the world is very gray, but I'm grumpy about it. But I understand it's real.
So yeah, so we've done this for a few years out of the past categories that you have picked, do you have a favorite?
I kind of like the nature, the great outdoors, one this year. Mostly because from the, we don't have a lot of submissions yet, but I'm enjoying seeing the variety of books that people have read for that. I was kind of expecting that a lot of people would pick nonfiction for that one. But it has not been mostly nonfiction. It's been about 50/50.
And, I like it when people interpret the categories. And that's that's kind of why we leave them a little bigger, right? Because we want people to not, you know, like, I don't want you to only read a book published between 1901 and 1902 by an American publisher that has a person whose last name starts with W. Like it's just it's too much. You know, I like it when there's a little bit of flexibility. Do you have a favorite category?
My favorite category is a book recommended by a Durham Tech Library because I like being asked what people should read, and I like answering that question.
Yeah, it is great joy, great joy.
It's just so much fun. I just like so much. Normally, at the end of the year, we do some kind of celebration in the library where we have tea and cookies. And everybody can pick up their prize and talk about what books they read this year. Unfortunately, due to COVID, as with many things, that's not going to happen. But, do we have a plan for a replacement activity or events?
We do, we don't have it scheduled quite yet. And it's going to be scheduled date TBD. But it's going to be scheduled mid January. And it will essentially be a book chat. So we will officially debut the new categories for 2021. Although I will let you know, if you follow the Durham Tech Library blog, they will post on the first of January because it's the full calendar year. And so we will do a virtual chat, where we'll talk about the new categories field any questions, and we will essentially ask, Well, what are you reading? We've done a couple of them since March. And I think a lot of people want to know what other readers are reading. They are looking for recommendations and I miss giving book recommendations a lot. And I really miss putting a book in someone's hand like, Oh, look, I have the perfect thing for you. COVID, ugh.
When you talk about the challenge with other people, what question do you get the most?
Ah, there's usually not one but one of the categories every year is a either a literary or genre term. So it's like a specific term. So whatever that word is, is the question that I get the most. This year it was a bildungsroman, which I've probably lightly mispronounced because such as life, but you know, just kind of explaining what the definition of that is. I mean, it's always defined on the big sheet but we have little bookmarks that we give out as well. And so kind of explaining what does that look like in literature form. Bildungsroman is a coming of age novel.
What are you reading?
Well, I'm going to confess that I have not been reading a lot lately. I've been watching a lot more TV and I think it is important to recognize that even if you are a reader you're allowed to have ebbs and flows. I am reading Plain Bad Heroines by Emily Danforth and I'm enjoying it. I'm not quite sure what I thought it was gonna be versus what it actually is. But it is a very large book it is about 700 pages long and I did not expect that. Again, I'm enjoying it but it's a little like, it's a little spooky, and it takes place in two timelines where you have like this girl's school and there's like some death surrounding a book and then there's like the modern timeline where they're making a movie about the death surrounding this book and it's so far it's an appropriate level of spooky for me. I don't like things that are super like grotesque and like give me nightmares so it's not giving me nightmares. So I'm into that.
Do you have any final thoughts or messages for the people?
Read books if you want to. Don't shame people if they want to read.
Audiobooks are still books.
They are. The only thing that they do not mimic in terms of a lot of the other benefits are reading comprehension because word recognition.
Thank you for joining me today.
Thank you again to Meredith for coming on the podcast and talking about the reading challenge with me. I can't wait to get started on next year's reading challenge list. She also wanted me to mention that the book she's reading is not actually 700 pages, it's 623 pages long, but sometimes you measure the length of books by the space they take up in your heart. Right? I'll talk to you next year!