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Illustration: Chris Riddell


Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

on why we need libraries – an essay in pictures


Two great champions of reading for pleasure

return to remind us that it really is an important thing to do

– and that libraries create literate citizens


Thu 6 Sep 2018    16.59 BST


















Illustration: Johnny Dombrowski


Can’t Sleep?

Let Stephen King Keep You Company


April 19, 2020    5:00 a.m. ET


















Illustration: Hanna Barczyk


When Reading Had No End

Books were a refuge in 2020,

although some stories were more of a consolation than others.


Dec. 9, 2020


















A young David Bowie (then Davy Jones) in 1965

fitting in his eight books a day.


Photograph: CA/Redferns


Readers recommend: songs about books


Thursday 18 June 2015    20.00 BST

Last modified on Wednesday 15 June 2016    08.11 BST



















Children reading at the Countee Cullen Public Library

on 136th Street between Lenox and 7th Avenues, 1967.


Photograph: Arthur Brower

The New York Times



The Literary Lives of New York City’s Youth

Archival photos of children’s reading rooms

at the New York Public Library over the years.


Nov. 10, 2023



















Comic Book Readers, NYC, 1947


In 1940,

Orkin briefly attended Los Angeles City College for photojournalism

before becoming the first messenger girl at MGM Studios in 1941.


She had hoped to become a cinematographer

but left after discovering that the cinematographers’ union

did not allow female members


American girl behind the camera: the pioneering work of Ruth Orkin – in pictures

A new auction marks 100 years since the birth of US photographer Ruth Orkin,

who travelled the world making waves in an industry dominated by men


Tue 12 Jan 2021    07.00 GMT



















Freshly Squeezed

by Ed Stein


June 23, 2013

































Readers digest

The Guardian        Review        p. 5

30 December 2006


















Readers digest

The Guardian        Review        p. 6

30 December 2006



















Izhar Cohen

Guardian Review        p. 3

12 March 2005















read        UK





















































































































read        USA




literacy-adult-education-united-states-solutions - December 23, 2022






















































read aloud        USA










the right to read        USA





literacy-adult-education-united-states-solutions - December 23, 2022








literacy        USA




literacy-adult-education-united-states-solutions - December 23, 2022








high school literacy curriculum        USA










wrestle with complex texts at school        USA










good read








be a riveting read        UK










riveting        USA










reading        UK













reading        USA


































reading skills        USA










rereading        USA










reading habits        USA










skim reading        UK










reader        UK / USA







in-pictures - Guardian pictures gallery












































casual reader








avid reader








dyslexic readers        UK










readership        UK










skim over N










Corpus of news articles


Arts > Books > Readers, Reading



Page Turner

A Good Mystery: Why We Read


November 25, 2007
The New York Times


PERHAPS the most fantastical story of the year was not “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” but “The Uncommon Reader,” a novella by Alan Bennett that imagines the queen of England suddenly becoming a voracious reader late in life.

At a time when books appear to be waging a Sisyphean battle against the forces of MySpace, YouTube and “American Idol,” the notion that someone could move so quickly from literary indifference to devouring passion seems, sadly, far-fetched.

The problem was underscored last week when the National Endowment for the Arts delivered the sobering news that Americans — particularly teenagers and young adults — are reading less for fun. At the same time, reading scores among those who read less are declining, and employers are proclaiming workers deficient in basic reading comprehension skills.

So that’s the bad news. But is all hope gone, or will people still be drawn to the literary landscape? And what is it, exactly, that turns someone into a book lover who keeps coming back for more?

There is no empirical answer. If there were, more books would sell as well as the “Harry Potter” series or “The Da Vinci Code.” The gestation of a true, committed reader is in some ways a magical process, shaped in part by external forces but also by a spark within the imagination. Having parents who read a lot helps, but is no guarantee. Devoted teachers and librarians can also be influential. But despite the proliferation of book groups and literary blogs, reading is ultimately a private act. “Why people read what they read is a great unknown and personal thing,” said Sara Nelson, editor in chief of the trade magazine Publishers Weekly.

In some cases, asking someone to explain why they read is to invite an elegant rationalization. Junot Díaz, the author of “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” vividly recalls stumbling into a mobile library shortly after his family emigrated from the Dominican Republic to New Jersey when he was 6 years old. He checked out a Richard Scarry picture book, a collection of 19th-century American wilderness paintings and a bowdlerized version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sign of Four.”

So what about those three titles turned him into someone who is crazy for books? “I could create a narrative explaining the creation myth of my reading frenzy,” Mr. Díaz said. “But in some ways it’s just provisional. I feel like it’s a mystery what makes us vulnerable to certain practices and not to others.”

Such caveats aside, there are some clues as to what might transform someone into an enduring reader.

“The Uncommon Reader” posits the theory that the right book at the right time can ignite a lifelong habit. (For the fictional queen, it’s Nancy Mitford’s “Pursuit of Love.”) This is a romantic ideal that persists among many a bibliophile.

“It can be like a drug in a positive way,” said Daniel Goldin, general manager of the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops in Milwaukee. “If you get the book that makes the person fall in love with reading, they want another one.”

Most often, that experience occurs in childhood. In “The Child That Books Built,” Francis Spufford, a British journalist and critic, writes of how “the furze of black marks between ‘The Hobbit’ grew lucid, and released a dragon,” turning him into “an addict.”

But what makes that one book a trigger for continuous reading? For some, it’s the discovery that a book’s character is like you, or thinks and feels like you. In accepting the National Book Award for young people’s literature for “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” earlier this month, Sherman Alexie thanked Ezra Jack Keats, author of “The Snowy Day,” a classic picture book. “It was the first time I looked at a book and saw a brown, black, beige character — a character who resembled me physically and resembled me spiritually, in all his gorgeous loneliness and splendid isolation,” Mr. Alexie, a Spokane Indian who grew up on a reservation, told the audience.

In an interview, Mr. Alexie said “The Snowy Day” transformed him from someone who read regularly into a true bookhound. “I really think it’s the age at which you find that book that you really identify with that determines the rest of your reading life,” Mr. Alexie said. “The younger you are when you do that, the more likely you’re going to be a serious reader. It really is about finding yourself in a book.”

Of course that doesn’t account for reading for information, enlightenment or practical advice. And for others, it’s not so much identification as the embrace of the Other that draws them into reading. “It’s that excitement of trying to discover that unknown world,” said Azar Nafisi, the author of “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” the best-selling memoir about a book group she led in Iran.

Sometimes the world of reading is opened up by a book that goes down easy. Mr. Bennett said he chose “The Pursuit of Love” for his fictional queen because it happened to be the first adult novel that he read for pleasure. He said that for him, as with the queen’s character, the book was a stepping off point into more heavyweight literature. “There are all sorts of entrances that you can get into reading by reading what might at first seem trash,” Mr. Bennett said.

And certain books that become phenomena — like those in the Harry Potter series or “The Da Vinci Code” or, to a slightly lesser extent most books recommended for Oprah Winfrey’s book club — can, in tempting people to read in the first place, create habitual readers. Perhaps more often, however, those readers just wait for the next “hot” book.

Indeed, even after Ms. Winfrey recommends a title, sales of other books by the same author don’t necessarily match those of the book that bears her imprimatur. “What I find with readers today is they don’t go off on their own to another book,” said Jonathan Galassi, publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. “They wait for the next recommendation.”

It may also be that for some, reading is a pursuit that, like ballet or baseball, simply requires practice. “I think for a lot of people, reading is just something you do,” said Paula Brehm Heeger, president of the Young Adult Library Services Association. “And you eventually realize that you really like it.”

Book sales in general are growing only slightly: According to the Book Industry Study Group, a publishing trade association, the number of books sold last year, 3.1 billion, was up just 0.5 percent from a year earlier.

The question of whether reading, or reading books in particular, is essential is complicated by the fact that part of what draws people to books can now be found elsewhere — and there is only so much time to consume it all.

Readers who want to know they are not alone are finding reflections of themselves in the confessional blogs sprouting across the Internet. And television shows like “The Sopranos” or “Lost” can satisfy the hunger for narrative and richly textured characters in a way that only books could in a previous age.

But books have outlived many death knells, and are likely to keep doing so. “I’m much more optimistic than I think most people are,” Mr. Díaz said. Reading suffers, he said, because it has to compete unfairly with movies, television shows and electronic gadgets whose marketing budgets far outstrip those of publishers. “Books don’t have billion-dollar publicity behind them,” Mr. Díaz said. “Given the fact that books don’t have that, they’re not doing a bad job.”

A Good Mystery: Why We Read,






Potter Has Limited Effect

on Reading Habits


July 11, 2007

The New York Times



Of all the magical powers wielded by Harry Potter, perhaps none has cast a stronger spell than his supposed ability to transform the reading habits of young people. In what has become near mythology about the wildly popular series by J. K. Rowling, many parents, teachers, librarians and booksellers have credited it with inspiring a generation of kids to read for pleasure in a world dominated by instant messaging and music downloads.

And so it has, for many children. But in keeping with the intricately plotted novels themselves, the truth about Harry Potter and reading is not quite so straightforward a success story. Indeed, as the series draws to a much-lamented close, federal statistics show that the percentage of youngsters who read for fun continues to drop significantly as children get older, at almost exactly the same rate as before Harry Potter came along.

There is no doubt that the books have been a publishing sensation. In the 10 years since the first one, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” was published, the series has sold 325 million copies worldwide, with 121.5 million in print in the United States alone. Before Harry Potter, it was virtually unheard of for kids to queue up for a mere book. Children who had previously read short chapter books were suddenly plowing through more than 700 pages in a matter of days. Scholastic, the series’s United States publisher, plans a record-setting print run of 12 million copies for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the eagerly awaited seventh and final installment due out at 12:01 a.m. on July 21.

But some researchers and educators say that the series, in the end, has not permanently tempted children to put down their Game Boys and curl up with a book instead. Some kids have found themselves daunted by the growing size of the books (“Sorcerer’s Stone” was 309 pages; “Deathly Hallows,” will be 784). Others say that Harry Potter does not have as much resonance as titles that more realistically reflect their daily lives. “The Harry Potter craze was a very positive thing for kids,” said Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, who has reviewed statistics from federal and private sources that consistently show that children read less as they age. “It got millions of kids to read a long and reasonably complex series of books. The trouble is that one Harry Potter novel every few years is not enough to reverse the decline in reading.”

Educators agree that the series can’t get the job done alone.

“Unless there are scaffolds in place for kids — an enthusiastic adult saying, ‘Here’s the next one’ — it’s not going to happen,” said Nancie Atwell, the author of “The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers” and a teacher in Edgecomb, Me. “And in way too many American classrooms it’s not happening.”

Young people are less inclined to read for pleasure as they move into their teenage years for a variety of reasons, educators say. Some of these are trends of long standing (older children inevitably become more socially active, spend more time on reading-for-school or simply find other sources of entertainment other than books), and some are of more recent vintage (the multiplying menagerie of high-tech gizmos that compete for their attention, from iPods to Wii consoles). What parents and others hoped was that the phenomenal success of the Potter books would blunt these trends, perhaps even creating a generation of lifelong readers in their wake.

“Anyone who has children or grandchildren sees the competition for children’s time increasing as they enter adolescence, and the difficulty that reading seems to have to compete effectively,” Mr. Gioia said.

Many thousands of children have, indeed, gone from the Potter books to other pleasure reading. But others have dropped away.

Starting when Avram Leierwood was 7, he would read the books aloud with his mother, Mina. “We’d sit in the treehouse in our backyard and take turns,” recalled Ms. Leierwood, of South Minneapolis.

But while Ms. Leierwood has remained an avid fan, Avram, now 15, is indifferent. When “Deathly Hallows” comes out, he will be on a canoe trip. As for reading, he said: “I don’t really have much time anymore. I like to hang out with my friends, talk, go watch movies and stuff, go to the park and play ultimate Frisbee.”

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a series of federal tests administered every few years to a sample of students in grades 4, 8 and 12, the percentage of kids who said they read for fun almost every day dropped from 43 percent in fourth grade to 19 percent in eighth grade in 1998, the year “Sorcerer’s Stone” was published in the United States. In 2005, when “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” the sixth book, was published, the results were identical.

Many parents, educators and librarians say that despite such statistics, they have seen enough evidence to convince them that Harry Potter is a bona fide hero.

“Parents will say, ‘You know, my son never spent time reading, and now my son is staying up late reading, keeping the light on because he can’t put that book down,’ ” said Linda B. Gambrell, president of the International Reading Association, a professional organization for teachers.

In a study commissioned last year by Scholastic, Yankelovich, a market research firm, reported that 51 percent of the 500 kids aged 5 to 17 polled said they did not read books for fun before they started reading the series. A little over three-quarters of them said Harry Potter had made them interested in reading other books.

Before she discovered Harry Potter, Kara Havranek, 13, spent most of her time romping outside in Parma, a suburb of Cleveland, or playing video games like Crash Bandicoot.

But four years after struggling through “Sorcerer’s Stone,” Kara has read and reread all six books, decorated her bedroom with Potter memorabilia and said she could hardly wait for “Deathly Hallows.”

But although Kara said she has enjoyed other books, she was not sure what lasting influence the series would have. “I probably won’t read as much when Harry Potter is over,” she said.

In a way that was previously rare for books, Harry Potter entered the pop-culture consciousness. The movies (the film version of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” the fifth in the series, just opened) heightened the fervor, spawning video games and collectible figurines. That made it easier for kids who thought reading was for geeks to pick up a book.

Until Harry Potter, “I don’t think kids were reading proudly,” said Connie Williams, the school librarian at Kenilworth Junior High School in Petaluma, Calif. “Now it’s more normalized. It’s like, ‘Gosh we can read now, it’s O.K.’ ”

But creating a habit of reading is a continuous battle with kids who are saturated with other options. During a recent sixth-grade English class at the John W. McCormack Middle School in the Dorchester section of Boston, Aaron Forde, a cherubic 12-year-old, said he loved playing soccer, basketball and football. On top of that, he spends four hours a day chatting with friends on MySpace.com, the social networking site.

He had read the first three Harry Potter books, but said he had no particular interest in reading more. “I don’t like to read that much,” he said. “I think there are better things to do.”

Neema Avashia, Aaron’s English teacher, said it was rare for the Harry Potter series to draw reluctant readers to books. “I try to have a lot of books in my library that reflect where kids are coming from,” Ms. Avashia said. “And Harry Potter isn’t really where my kids are coming from.” She noted that her class is 85 percent nonwhite, and Harry Potter has few characters that belong to a racial minority group.

Some reading experts say that urging kids to read fiction in general might be a misplaced goal. “If you look at what most people need to read for their occupation, it’s zero narrative,” said Michael L. Kamil, a professor of education at Stanford University. “I don’t want to deny that you should be reading stories and literature. But we’ve overemphasized it,” he said. Instead, children need to learn to read for information, Mr. Kamil said, something they can practice while reading on the Internet, for example.

Still, there is something about seeing the passion that a novel can inspire that excites those who want to perpetuate a culture of reading. Even as the Harry Potter series draws to a close, there are signs that other books are coming up to take its place.

On a recent afternoon at at Public School 54 on Staten Island, a group of fifth grade boys shouted with enthusiasm for the “Cirque du Freak” series by Darren Shan, about a boy who becomes entangled with a vampire.

“I like the books so much that even when the teacher is teaching a lesson, I still want to read the books,” said Vincent Eng, a wiry 11-year-old. His classmate Thejas Alex said he had stopped reading a Harry Potter book to jump into “Cirque du Freak.”

“While I was reading them,” Thejas said, referring to the “Cirque” books, “I was like, addicted.”

Potter Has Limited Effect on Reading Habits,










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