Category Archives: Book Discussions

Harry Potter’s Back (and more)!

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Art by Kazu Kibuishi

For more than a year, muggles, witches, and wizards alike have been asking us when we would bring back our Harry Potter discussion groups for 8-17 year-olds. We are thrilled to announce that Prefects and Junior Prefects are back at Carbon Valley Regional Library in Firestone and Erie Community Library. Both libraries are part of High Plains Library District where they know all about the magic of reading!

All of our discussion groups are conducted according to our Geek Philosophy method that encourages young people to speak and listen to each other in a spirit of wholehearted inquiry. We can’t think of a better way to approach the thought-provoking works of J.K. Rowling. 

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Send us an owl: What are the most important lessons you have learned from Harry Potter?

There is one catch to all this, however. Junior Prefects and Prefects in the High Plains Library District are being run as pilot projects. In order to continue the discussions past February, we need to show that young witches and wizards are excited to gather once a month or more to talk about magic! Please sign up and tell your friends!

Carbon Valley meetings will take place on the first Tuesdays of the month, beginning December 6. Junior Prefects meet 4:30-5:30 p.m. Prefects meet 6:30-7:30 p.m.

8-11 year-olds: Register for Junior Prefects here.

12-17 year-olds: Register for Prefects here.

Erie Community Library meetings will take place on the second Tuesdays of the month, beginning December 13. Junior Prefects meet 4:30-5:30 p.m. Prefects meet 6:30-7:30 p.m.

8-11 year-olds: Register for Junior Prefects here.

12-17 year-olds: Register for Prefects here.

Are you a Jedi as well as a wizard? Register for Fandoms Unite: A Star Wars Story to share your excitement about Rogue One and all things Star Wars with fans your own age! The story begins on December 1 at 4 p.m. Register here. May the Force be with you!

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Be sure to like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter for event updates. From time to time, events open up for an expanded age group or new spaces are added. Don’t miss out on the magic! 

You can get more information and register for any High Plains Library District programs by calling 1-888-861-7323. 

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“Where your treasure is…”

Imagine that you are tidying a room after a meeting and you find that what was left behind is actually treasure placed there for you to discover. Imagine that you hold another meeting, and another, and another, a meeting almost every week for four years and, every single time, new treasure is left behind. There is so much treasure that, when you spread it out across your living room floor, it is three layers thick. There is so much treasure that it would take almost another four years to sort through it all but you never do sort through it all because there is always a new piece that catches your eye and makes you go back to savor all the pieces you looked at before. Imagine that each piece is priceless and the pieces just keep coming.

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This is what life is like for Grey Havens YA facilitators because, every week during our book discussions, we give our participants markers, pencils, pens, and paper then let them go. They use the materials to illustrate discussion points, to express their wry humor and poignant dreams, to confidently create. From clever scribbles to detailed drawings that take more than one meeting to complete, they have left behind treasure in the form of small glimpses into their intricate minds. Creative and critical thinking, that’s what we’re all about. Astonishing ideas emerge during every Grey Havens YA book discussion. Not all of them are spoken.

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Send Us an Owl: Our photos don’t do justice to either the quality or abundance of art we receive from our YA members. Send us your own photos or, if you are a YA member, tell us about your favorite work of art from a Grey Havens YA meeting!

The Lull of Childhood Memories

Círdan’s note: Tomorrow at Grey Havens YA, we will be discussing “Usher II,” the Martian Chronicles story about a man who’s so fed up with the censorship and book burnings of earth that he creates his own House of Usher on Mars and invites all the “sophisticates” over for murder and mayhem. It’s a thrilling tale with it’s fair share of horror. Today, one of our members (145Barbarian) embraces the viewpoint of the Other as he reflects on a few of his favorite horror films and how they deal with the lull of childhood memories. It’s shaping up to be quite a scary week over here at Grey Havens YA!

At our Grey Havens YA meeting (January 9th) we mentioned something having to do with childhood. We said that some find safety in it, while others want to forget their childhood ever happened. I couldn’t help but think of some of my favorite horror movie characters during this. It may sound weird that childhood and horror villains are related, but even they had childhoods. The two examples I am going to be using are Michael Myers from Halloween, and Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th (The remake).

***WARNING—SPOILERS FOR HALLOWEEN  5, AND FRIDAY THE 13TH (Remake), AND A MINOR SPOILER FOR FREDDY VS.JASON FOLLOW—WARNING***

***FURTHER WARNING—BOTH MOVIE CLIPS ARE FROM R RATED MOVIES—FURTHER WARNING*** (rdan’s note: In the spirit of Bradbury, I’m not going to censor 145Barbarian’s post. But please note that you have been warned.) Continue reading The Lull of Childhood Memories

What Is Geek Philosophy?

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Grey Havens YA is many things. We are geeks and nerds. We are readers, writers, and artists. We are philosophers. Our group takes its name from a harbor in Tolkien’s Middle-earth, a place where ships depart to the Undying Lands, a place that connects the everyday to the extraordinary. The idea is that we are learning to live our lives with one foot in this world and one foot beyond it so that we can look upon ourselves with philosophical distance, seeing what we might not notice until we step back from it, understanding what we might not understand until we look at it with both logic and imagination. This is how we become philosophers or lovers of wisdom (philo-love, sophia-wisdom).

At Grey Havens YA, philosophy is part of everything we do, whether it is our weekly book discussions, Fandoms Unite, Hogwarts Preparatory Academy, or our recent Multigenerational Philosophy Discussion at the Longmont Senior Center. We approach all our endeavors with a spirit and method of inquiry that we call Geek Philosophy.

These are the principles that make Geek Philosophy work.

Philosophy is for everyone. Geek Philosophy is based in a rich tradition that is probably as old as humankind but that, in the West, can easily be traced back to the classical and Hellenistic philosophers.  Pierre Hadot said of these philosophers that they practiced “philosophy as a way of life.” The first principle of Geek Philosophy is that it is not an ivory tower pursuit for professionals, not something just for academic journals or for the big decisions made by governments or corporations; it is for everyone, all the time.  Everyone has a philosophy, a system of propositions according to which they live. Sometimes, these propositions are confused and contradictory. Often, they are unconsciously held. Geek Philosophy helps us to identify our beliefs, hold them up to the light, and change them when they do not stand up to examination. It helps us to live rich, examined lives.

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We are all natural philosophers. In the 1960s, philosopher Matthew Lipman developed a program called Philosophy for Children or P4C that has been replicated successfully many times since. The idea central to P4C is that all humans, even small children, are natural philosophers but it takes years to master the technical jargon that allows us to play the “word games” of professional philosophers. P4C uses literature as a launching pad for jargon-free discussions of the questions that occupy us all: Who am I? Why am I here? Why am I me instead of someone else? What is the good life? What is truth? Beauty? Justice? This leads us to our third principle.

Stories are philosophy without discourse. This includes the stories told by movies, TV shows, video games, music and other visual and performing arts. Behind every story, there is a set of propositions about the world. In story, these propositions are communicated to us in a way that transcends words. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote of the pregnant or poignant instance, an instance that contains all other instances. There is something that can be understood about flowers by watching a single flower grow that can never be understood by consuming all the world’s texts on flowers.

Nature acts through soil, seed, sun, and water to grow the flower. J.R.R. Tolkien believed that stories grow in the human imagination in a similar way. He called this subcreation. A good story contains even more than the author intended. It is more than a construct; it is an expression of the same reality that expresses itself in the growing flower. Goethe wrote that the phenomenon, such as the flower or the story, is the theory. He believed that all of the things people have said about a phenomenon can crowd our minds and keep us from really knowing the thing itself. Know the flower (or the story), he urged, not the abstract idea of it.

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Stories provide us with poignant expressions of love, truth, beauty, justice without abstracting these phenomena. To grasp what a story is communicating is the practice of philosophy because philosophy is about understanding more than it is about explaining. Discourse, or a set of spoken or written propositions, is one result of the practice of philosophy, not the practice itself. That is why we begin each Geek Philosophy gathering by experiencing a story.

In this scene from Doctor Who, the great artist Vincent Van Gogh has traveled through time and space to visit the Musee D’Orsay where a retrospective of his work is being held. To use discourse to communicate everything that this scene communicates about life and art would require volumes and would likely yield less understanding.

This does not mean that we do not value or practice discourse. At every gathering, we benefit from making explicit our implicit understanding of a story. We benefit from visiting each other’s perspectives on the same story but we try not to let our interpretations stand as the last words on the subject. We strive to avoid using discourse to strip the story of its richness, just as discourse should not strip life of its richness. What we feel, what we apprehend through the experience of the story is a more direct experience of philosophy than anything we can say about the story. When we can connect this to our actual lives and create an emotional and intellectual touchstone that we can access when we need to understand something, we have succeeded as philosophers.

Philosophy depends on the imagination. Our discussions do not begin with just any stories but with the imaginative tales of fantasy and science fiction. Memory sees, or purports to see, what we have already seen. Imagination sees things differently. The practice of philosophy demands that we cultivate different perspectives, that we look beyond our day-to-day concerns. Seeking philosophical distance helps us to extend our minds to perceive a problem as it might appear through the eyes of another or even across time and space. The problem is that we tend to get stuck in our own experiences, expectations, and desires, including seeing the theory rather than the thing.

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote that human beings usually experience the world through “appropriation.” We approach the world with our minds already made up about it because we see it as existing for us, rather than for itself. He believed that we free ourselves from the habit of appropriation through the practice of Recovery.

Recovery, or the ability to perceive without prejudice, can begin when we see ordinary things in an extraordinary setting. Tolkien wrote that we should not weary of painting because we see only the colors we know. Instead, we should make paintings that help us see those colors anew. This kind of thing happens when we see a strange wizard smoking an ordinary pipe or when we see an ordinary blue box surviving the vibrant tumult of the time vortex. What Tolkien called the “arresting strangeness” of the fantastic story wakes us up so that we pay renewed attention even to the story’s familiar elements, like pipes and blue boxes. Fiction that engages the imagination wakes us from the slumber of appropriation.

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A 2009 study by Proulx and Heine suggests that encountering what first seems to be a nonsense scenario, a blue box in the time vortex or a lamppost in a snowy wood, causes us to try to make a deeper sense by looking harder for meaning and coherence. If we are so entrenched in our appropriated world that we cannot imagine anything but only recall what we are used to seeing, we will not get very far in this process. Fantasy primes us perfectly for philosophy because, once our imagination is engaged, we can use it to conjure up all kinds of new possibilities. Geeks are great at this because we are drawn to otherness and entranced by the unknown. We are not afraid of the strange so it doesn’t frighten us to see the strangeness in the everyday.

Have you ever wondered if there is a place where breathing oxygen and walking about on two legs would seem preposterous? If you haven’t, it is because you have gotten used to these things. Probably, it has never occurred to you to do anything but take them for granted. Being used to something or taking it for granted is not the same as understanding it. Until we look at our own two legs with as much amazement as we would look at the wings of dragons, our ability to understand will be circumscribed. Geek philosophy begins with the alien out there and ends with the alien in our own hearts. That is not as frightening as it might sound, not to us, because, in our story, an alien is the one who shows us how amazing the universe really is.

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“Think you’ve seen it all? Think again. Outside those doors, we might see anything. We could find new worlds, terrifying monsters, impossible things. And if you come with me… nothing will ever be the same again!” -The Doctor

Now it’s your turn. Let’s start a Geek Philosophy discussion about the clips below. Send us an owl (comment) with your thoughts and try to look at the world anew.

What is true?

What is beautiful?

What is just?

Discussing the Third and Fourth Planets

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What is normal? This is a question the members of Grey Havens YA have been exploring as we dip our toes into the strange Martian canals of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. In the first few stories, we see a Martian perspective of Earth:

“The third planet is incapable of supporting life. …  Our scientists have said there’s far too much oxygen in the atmosphere.”

“Blue eyes! Gods! … What’ll you dream next? I suppose he had black hair?”

In our introductory discussion, we introduced the postmodern and poststructuralist concept of signs and simulacra and Jean Baudrillard’s notion that “The sign is arbitrary.” It was wonderful to watch our young members slowly grasp hold of a philosophy that most students don’t learn about until their university years. Signs and symbols… what is normal? What does normal even mean? What do our words signify and why? Is it all arbitrary?

To the martians, brown skin and gold eyes are normal. Blue eyes — preposterous! Oxygen isn’t what you need to support life, it’s carbon-dioxide that you need.

To one of our members, having asthma was always the norm. Using an inhaler since she was a very small child, the idea of breathing freely made no sense to her mind. To another, lack of depth perception was her only way to see the world until new glasses drastically improved her vision. We spoke of color-blindness and the new Encrhoma lenses…

What is normal? The Martians certainly don’t seem normal to us. Bradbury goes to great lengths to show us just how different their life is: bubbling hot lava tables to cook your dinner, beds of mist, scarves in bottles, houses made of pillars of rain, flame birds to carry your canopy… And yet, and yet, something about those Martians seems hauntingly familiar. A husband and a wife, a troubled marriage, jealousy, murder– Is the fourth planet so very different from the third?

Today, we dive in deeper– we’ll read about the second and third expeditions. We’ll see how the Martians react to the Earth Men. Perhaps we’ll talk about war, or sanity, or xenophobia, or pride… Perhaps we’ll simply marvel at the beauty of the prose or shudder at the horror of the story. Perhaps that red Martian landscape will show us just a little bit more about ourselves, and we’ll come back here to tell the tale. Will you follow along?

 

Send us an owl: What has been your experience reading The Martian Chronicles?

Thar be Sherlock

Círdan’s note: Grey Havens YA has finished our discussions of Sherlock Holmes for the present time. We are currently in the process of finding a new book! Today, as tribute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation, we take a special look at the famous detective through the eyes of ThistlePiper. See his notes below!

Who is Sherlock Holmes? All over the world and throughout history many have wondered about the many mysteries that make up the world’s most iconic consultant detective. Let’s start by accessing the book character and Sherlock’s  personal character.

Sherlock Holmes is not the average book character. Many books will have a normal character with abnormal lives and abilities. Sherlock, however, is different. Sherlock is an abnormal character leading a semi-normal life. As for his abilities, he is just really smart. He will however utilize logic and deductive reasoning  in an astounding manner. Now, I mean no offense to Sherlock himself but he is undeniably the ultimate know-it-all in existence. Not only that but one gets the impression that Mr. Holmes revels in it. However, in Sherlock’s defense I can imagine how being the only one on his level can be maddening. Now by “his level” I mean someone who functions at the same intellectual capacity and moral capacity (for what little there is) as Sherlock . Moriarty, Sherlock’s arch-enemy doesn’t count.

Now for some examples of the basic Sherlock-isms–

If Rachel, a lead forensics detective for Scotland Yard, leaves for work at 4:00 AM and the standard transition time is 1 hour 30 minutes, the deductive reasoning allows for one to surmise that if Rachel leaves at 4, then she is taking into account the transition time and is doing her best to accommodate for any diversity in the commute. She arrives at 5:30 AM, so therefore she has to be on duty at 6:00 AM.

There is also the theory of non-identity for example: A = not B or C, but A.

Then you have inductive reasoning: All Scotsmen wear kilts so therefore that kilted guy is Scottish.

Precise /Deductive reasoning: A=B B=C then A=C.

Ad hominem: The art of attacking the individual instead of the argument.

Red herring: Introducing a topic that is not relevant to the argument.

Straw man: Introducing a weaker representation of truth so that you can knock it down like a straw man.

Appeal to pity: Appealing to the emotions of the subject.

Appeal to popularity: Asking someone to accept an argument because the majority holds it to be true.

Appeal to tradition: Asking someone to accept an argument because it has been accepted as true in the past.

Category mistake: Attributing to one category that which can only be attributed to another. (ex. Blue is nicer than red.)

Halo effect: Assuming that, because some thing is good in one way (ex. Physically attractive), it must also be good in other ways. (ex. kind)

Send us an owl: What do you think of Sherlock? Which Sherlock-ism do you find most fascinating? Which short story did you enjoy reading the most?

From a Grey Havens YA Meeting: Wonderfully Wise Words and Wonderfully Weird Art!

You never know what treasures will come out of a Grey Havens YA meeting, like this line from a recent meeting: “The writer is the wizard who transports you to other worlds with the runes that they use in their books.” -Eliza

At our last book discussion meeting, we were transported to the spooky moors where the Hound of the Baskervilles is rumored to roam but one of our members also did some sketches for a multi-fandom project he is working on. He is developing an elaborate story that centers around these strange, technological beings. It is amazing what our members come up with!

deacon robot

deacon globebot

deacon dalek hybrid

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A lot of our imaginative young adults are interested in storyboarding for movies and games but we do not yet have the resources to support them in these endeavors. Let us know if you know of anyone who can help!

Like my favorite dog, we are taking a break from reading Sherlock Holmes. Two weeks ago, we had Fandom Theater from Fandoms Unite, and last week we welcomed a guest speaker. (Watch this space for more on that soon!)

Bronte with Holmes

Send us an owl: We are already taking nominations for our next book to read and discuss as a group. Have you read any good imaginative fiction lately? 

Grey Havens YA Welcomes our First Guest Speaker

Did you know that one of Dr. Watson’s Neglected Patients joined us around the Grey Havens YA table last week? That’s right, Dr. Elisha Conant shared her Sherlockian expertise as she led us in a discussion of “The Speckled Band.”

ghyaDr. Conant showed us her annotated collections and talked about the realm of Sherlockian scholarship that set out to determine the exact dates and times of events in the stories and studied under the assumption that Sherlock was real and Doyle was his editor. We learned through textual clues and historical research that the adventure of “The Speckled Band” occurred on Friday, April 6, 1883.

Dr. Conant also talked to us about the fan culture surrounding Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories and how  Sherlock gave rise to some of the first ever “fanfiction” called pastiches. It seemed that Doyle’s 19th-century audience liked to fangirl as much as we do now in the 21st century.

Another aspect of Holmes culture we explored were the many adaptations of Holmes in the media. Dr. Conant showed us clips from four different adaptations of “The Speckled Band,” and the differences were fascinating.

We enjoyed talking about fantasy and fandoms, about those stories that feel so real and important to us that the become  a part of us. Thank you for facilitating a wonderful discussion, Elisha!

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Send us an owl: What other topics would you like guest speakers to talk about in the future? If you were there on Saturday, what was your favorite part of the discussion? Do you know of any possible guests, or would you like to be a guest yourself? Please let us know!

2014 in Review: Book Discussion Meetings

Perhaps you have heard that Grey Havens YA is much more than a book group. While that is true, we are also very much a book group. Thinking about and talking about books is at the heart of what we do. Here is a small insight into our first year of Saturday book discussion meetings.

We are all very happy to see each other when we arrive. The first people to arrive cheer as those who come later enter the room and this continues until everyone is ready to begin. We are not sure how this tradition got started but it is great to know that you are welcome.

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After what we hope are a few announcements (but, sometimes, they can go on for a while), we dive into the meeting by joining together in our “slogo.” Sonic screwdrivers, wands, lightsabers, Vulcan salutes and, of course, books are raised to the sky as one of us leads the group in Wil Wheaton’s words: “Being a nerd is not about what you love; it’s about how you love it.” Very true! We think we live this truth every time we gather together.

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After the slogo, the book discussion begins. In 2014, we read and discussed J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lois Lowry’s The Giver then made a healthy start on The Complete Adventures of Sherlock HolmesIn our early days,  Robyn and I facilitated these discussions but we recently began the new tradition of asking at least one middle school and one high school student to volunteer each week to help guide the conversation. While we are reading about Sherlock Holmes, these volunteers are called our “lead detectives.” One of our members came up with the clever job title. We wonder what it will be for the next book we discuss.

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Our lead detectives know that, while each discussion begins and ends with the book, we often find ourselves covering deep philosophical ground. We have discussed things like the nature of consciousness and reliability of perception, the nature of good and evil, whether or not the world is becoming a better place, what we mean by words like “love,” “truth” and “beauty,” what kind of people we want to be and the roles we want to play in society. Our members are as young as eleven years old but they are able to articulate arguments that would not be out of place in a college classroom. They draw on what they know of math, science and the arts and are inspired to learn more. Opinions always vary but that is part of the beauty of Grey Havens YA.

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rj thinking

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At Grey Havens YA, we value the imagination for, among other things, the way it helps us to flesh out abstract ideas. All kinds of works of the imagination are valid topics for discussion. If Sherlock Holmes reminds someone of Mr. Spock or Gandalf brings to mind one of the incarnations of the Doctor, we welcome these observations. The more imaginative pictures we have of the universe, the more we can begin to understand. We also value the empathy that we develop as we travel alongside our favorite characters. Empathy begins in the imagination. By imagining what it is like to be someone else, we develop compassion for others which leads to mutual respect and kindness.

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peter screwdriver

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We try to have paper, pens, colored pencils and markers available at every meeting. Some of our members bring their own sketchbooks and journals. From these materials, have come problems to solve together, illustrations to help explain theories or demonstrate facts and lots of inspired artwork. Some of this work has found its way to this blog but it would take a long time to scan and post all of it. That is why we love to show each other what we have created and why we find every excuse we can to display our art for the world to see.

peter drawing

eliza drawing

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For the last half hour of each two hour meeting, we indulge in another Grey Havens YA tradition by sharing our “fandom moments” from the week. Fandom moments are all of the ways that we see ourselves and our interests reflected back to us by our culture, all of the ways that we get the message that it is a wonderful thing to be ourselves. A fandom moment might be spotting a clever Harry Potter bumper sticker, meeting someone who cried at the same moment in the story that we did or building that first deck of Magic:The Gathering cards with the help of a teacher who organizes games after school.

It is appropriate that we close out fandom moments with one more recitation of our slogo because it turns out that being a nerd is about how you love it, and think about it, talk about it, draw it, share it with your friends. It is about how what we love makes us who we are and brings us all together on Saturday afternoons and beyond!

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keeley talking

jennifer coat

courtney callie

roxey hand on heart

We hope that, one day, there will be many more chapters of Grey Havens YA. We know that we have lots more meetings ahead of us. We hope the nerdiness never ends. Allons-y! Live long and prosper.

Send Us an Owl: If you attend Grey Havens YA meetings, what is your favorite part? If you were not able to be a part of the Grey Havens YA pilot group, what would it mean to you to have a group like ours where you can share the love of books and the imagination?

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Member Monthly Rant: Books and Reading

Cirdan’s note: Greetings. Today, we bring you a well-worded rant from our very own geekygeenerd. Enjoy, and be sure to send us an owl!

I believe in books and the power of reading.

I have loved to read ever since I learned how.  I was reading chapter books in first grade, and tore through the Harry Potter series when I was nine.  In fact, I once got in trouble at school for reading during class.  When the teacher called me out on it, I wasn’t embarrassed as much as I was concerned that he didn’t use a bookmark.  I have learned over the years that people who read more tend to know more things.  For example, I was once accused of cheating because I knew the answers to many of the questions a teacher was asking from a trivia book.  But all that I was using was the knowledge I had accumulated from books.  The ability to read well is also important for school.  Remembering knowledge acquired from books is important, because students are expected to read textbooks and novels, and some refuse because they say that they “hate reading,” which is incredibly sad to me.  Reading increases knowledge.  Reading can make you laugh, cry, and fall in love with fictional characters.  When I read the Harry Potter series, I did all of those things.  I developed emotions and feelings from printed words on the pages of books.

Some will argue that there is no need to read with today’s technologies, however, they fail to see that not everything can be absorbed by a screen.  For example, encyclopedias are checked thoroughly before they are published.  But websites like Wikipedia can be edited by anyone, making them unreliable.  Also, studies show that people who read from books retain more information than those who read from a screen.  Others think they just don’t like reading in general, but maybe that is because they have never found something they have enjoyed reading.  I think this correlates with assigned books in school.  I have noticed other students will start a book thinking they will hate it, and sometimes they do.  One personal experience I have had with this was when my brother was assigned to read The Giver. He hated it, but I loved it, and we usually love and share the same books.  I think this is due to the fact that he was forced to read it, but I chose to read it for fun.

I truly believe that reading makes you smarter.  In fact, kids who were shown the television show Spongebob Squarepants had a lower IQ after doing so.  What do you think would happen to those kids if they had read instead?  I was never allowed to watch Spongebob as a child, so I read.  Because of this, I’ve been reading at a higher level than what was expected of me since I was in second grade.

Reading is one of the most important skills one can have in life.  A book can teach you and a book can make you cry.  You just have to chose to read it.  This I believe.

Send us an owl: What is the first book you remember reading? And/or What book or series sparked your love for reading?