8 Easy and Practical ways of growing a family that reads
By Joy Ruguru
(This article is based on the Webinar given by Gabriel Dinda to Strathmore University Staff on Growing Families that read together)
Do you think general reading is important? That is the first question he asks. The eager audience answers in a poll. He then shares a story, as every smart orator should. It is not clear whether it is factual or man-made.
It is the story of Dani Nyodiko. The year is 1950. Dani lives in Homa Bay County on the shores of Lake Victoria whereas her husband lives and works in Nairobi. To keep the spark of love burning, he sends her letters regularly. However, there is only one person in the village who knows how to read, Juma. Dani depends on him to read the message contained in the letter.
On one occasion, Juma travels and comes back after many weeks. He finds a letter from Dani’s husband awaiting him. This time, whatever he reads was time-sensitive. It’s a little too late for Dani. And that’s the tragedy of inability to read.
Fast forward to 2020. Welcome Jonnie in Nairobi. He is the typical millennial; he has all the access to books, computers and the internet. However, he never reads anything other than social media posts. His favorite references are memes and Twitter trends “have you seen that meme?”. He knows the latest, not the necessary information.
Because of this, he cannot interrogate important issues in discussions. If you ask for his opinion on a matter, his default answer is the dismissive“Kwenda!” He pushes the heavy topic away and asks whether you saw that new meme. Do you know a Jonnie or are you one?
So what is the difference between Dani and Jonnie? One attendee at the Strathmore faculty meeting offers “One is uneducated and the other is ignorant.” Another suggests the difference is the same. American author Mark Twain had this to say: “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man (or woman) who cannot read”.
If you are reading this, it means you are not like Dani. So how do you ensure you are not part of this Kwenda generation? How do you develop a reading culture in your home? After all, the family is the basic unit of society and change. And how do you convince children and even adults to read more books outside school and work?
Here are 8 easy and practical ways suggested by Gabriel Dinda
- Include a book in your smiles
What are your favorite occasions? Well, include books in them. You can give a book to your friends or family members during their birthdays, anniversaries, weddings and graduations. Graduates are famously given the power to read, but where’s the book?
Gifting books works with non-readers too because the receiver has an emotional attachment to them. This makes them treasure and even read it. I recently gifted my nephew a Kenyan children’s book https://www.writersguild.co.ke/product/meine-freunde-mes-amis-meine-freunde/ on his 8th birthday. It was inspired by the #Books4Birthday initiative https://www.writersguild.co.ke/the-joy-of-books4birthdays/. Coincidentally, the book was also published by Writers Guild Kenya. I made sure we read the book together every night. Now he wants me to bring him another one.
2. Allocate a specific budget to books
We value what we spend on. If you want to value reading, Gabriel suggests, then set aside some money for it. As you budget for utility bills, rent and food, include books. It could be as little as Ksh. 500 shillings out of your monthly income to buy a book for yourself or someone else.
If you have children, you could involve them too. Give them a small amount and take them to the local bookshop to buy a book of their choice. The power to choose gives them responsibility. They will not only read it but take care of it.
3. Start a book club where you are
Book clubs are the support groups you need especially if you are a new reader. There are plenty of them online and offline. You can also start one wherever you are – at home, work, school or in town. The point of this book club is one family – one book – same time. Dedicate a few minutes every day, probably after dinner, to read together. Everyone gets to read a paragraph or two and then a discussion ensues. This can trigger topics which may be difficult to talk about such as sex, addiction and grief. Reading together also makes you feel bonded. You get to learn from each other and hear a different perspective from your friend or family member.
When you read with your children, you are able to see your child’s reading ability – way before the teacher tells you at a parent’s meeting. You can notice dyslexia or other reading difficulties which you can address early and effectively.
4. Introduce incentives
Although the point of reading is not to get a tangible reward, it helps encourage reading. It works best for young children for a short while. Make an enticing promise to them. After finishing a book, you can take them out, cook their favourite meal or buy them that bicycle they’ve been talking about all year. Or if they finish one book in a book series like Harry Potter, you can promise to buy the next one.
“What gets rewarded gets repeated,” said John E. Jones III. This brief reward system will help the child create a positive relationship with books. And later on, they will realize the abstract rewards such as better reading, writing and imagination skills that will last them a lifetime.
5. Include books in your special dates
Reading together goes beyond the family setting. You can read together as a couple or lovers who are getting to know each other. Just imagine going on a date in a serene open space like a park or a beach. Your favorite book can be a conversation starter and an ice breaker. You learn more about each other beyond “what do you like” and “what is your favorite food?”. An open book may even inspire the other person to open up about something you didn’t know about them. Reading together will be part of a special moment that will be hard to forget.
6. Use a book as your passport
Do you love to travel? Whenever you travel, carry a book. You can never be bored on the road or in the air when you have an interesting book on your hands to pass time. When you land in a new place, why not visit a local bookshop? You could buy the most appealing book on the shelves for you or a loved one back home. You could even get your host or a local friend to sign it as your memento. This treasure will cement your memories way beyond the Instagram pictures. What a way to look back years later and remember your wild adventures.
7. Become a member of libraries, bookshops and book activities
If you look you will find. There are so many libraries, bookshops and book events around you. If you want to take reading to the next level, register yourself and your child(ren) to a local library nearby. You can create monthly Library Visiting Days and Window Shopping Days. These are special dates to check out new books and find birthday gifts with someone. Just as you window shop in malls, you can spend your free time window shopping for books on the streets and in bookstores.
Since they are open to the public, take children (nephews and nieces included) to book signings, launches and activities. This exposes them to the literary world and silently communicates that reading is important. When you nurture a reading culture in them, it will be much easier as they grow up.
8. Have a bookshelf in your living room
You may have a whole room dedicated to your library of books. So why put them in the living room? Well, because we put what we value there. If that 50 inch ultra-HD screen has space on your wall, so should your books. Out of sight out of mind. And the opposite is true. Seeing books whenever you sit down to relax subconsciously encourages you to read. It also sends a positive image to your visitors and leaves them impressed at your vast collection.
Just be warned. If you lend a book, even to your most loyal friend, it might never come back. That’s just the way it is. That’s why it’s important to stamp every book with the date it was bought, your name and/or signature. At least if they keep it, they will always remember whose living room it came from.
And those are the 8 reading tips Gabriel shared with the Strathmore staff. He shared some extra ones that you will also love. Here they are:
- Write down the titles read, completion date and summary of lessons on a book or Excel sheet to track your reading. This gives you a sense of accomplishment seeing how many books you’ve read so far.
- Use a notebook to write down what struck you the most.
- Review these lessons by reading your notebook regularly.
- Set a time to read individually away from your book club. It could be in the morning before the world stirs awake or in the dead of the night. A pro tip: reading in bed makes it easier to fall asleep.
- After finishing a good book, write a short book review and share it with your friends on social media or Goodreads. You could even start a book review blog if the writing bug has bitten you. By doing this, you spread the gospel of books everyone should read.
- As a mentor, you could recommend a book to your mentee based on where they are in life. Make sure to read or discuss together. You not only help them but also yourself.
A member of the Faculty meeting asked about the significance of digital books. It’s true, ebooks and audiobooks have made reading more accessible. You can listen to audiobooks while commuting or doing chores. Ebooks can be read on any device and significantly cheaper than their tangible counterparts. But you may want to hear this. Studies show that you retain more when you read physical books. I can attest to this – I remember the physical books I read more than the digital ones.
Readers block is rare but it’s there. Like writers block, it might mean the mind needs a break. So try something new: change your reading time or shift your environment from indoors or outdoors. Or maybe you just need another book. Now that you have all these reading tips, you may be wondering – how do I start reading? As Gabriel said, the easiest way to start is by starting. First ask yourself “What is my area of interest?”. Then ask for a book recommendation from a friend, family member or mentor to save your time and energy scouring a multitude of books.
Once you’ve identified the one, buy the book and set aside time to read. If you can spend an hour on social media every day, you can create time to read. It could be one page or one chapter a day, as I usually do.In no time, you will find yourself having finished a book. And you will be part of the 98% of people who think general reading is important. Even if no one read bedtime stories to you as a child.
So, which reading tip will you start using today? Share in the comment section below!
Joy Ruguru is an Incubate member of Writers Guild-Kenya. Emailemail@example.com