Tag: books

Dear Jill: How to read more books this year

Dear Jill,

I have 10 books on my Goodreads list right now and that’s probably too many. I can only keep track of a couple at a time. One of them I haven’t picked up in months, although it sits at my bedside.

I’ve been a restless reader lately, I’ve started more than 10 books that never made the list and set them down. It’s not because they were bad (most of them), but I just didn’t have that drive to read them. I’d set them down and not care what happened next.

However, I’ve read 25 books this year, so far and I imagine I’ll get to 75 by the end of December as I usually do. Maybe all 10 of my current reads will be done by then, or maybe I’ll remove some. It took me more than a year to finish The Brothers Karamazov back in 2013. I read in fits and starts and enjoyed it overall. I just couldn’t do it in one go.

Here are my secrets to reading more books in a year:

  1. Mix in some short reads. I always read a few graphic novels throughout the year and I tend to motor though, even though I like to stop and examine the pictures. They get a bad rap sometimes, but even much-maligned superhero comics can have surprising depth. One book I’ve set down, but will eventually come back to is Mighty Thor with Jane Foster becoming Thor while fighting cancer. It’s pretty dark (which is why I had to set it down for a bit).
  2. Don’t force yourself to finish every book. There’s no participation trophy. Reading should be enjoyable and you’ll read faster if you read things you like. It’s OK if a book challenges you and takes you longer to read (hello, Thomas Cromwell biography), but if you’re resisting picking it up, try something else.
  3. Audiobooks are books. I don’t quite understand why some people don’t want to count them as books. You listen to the whole story and you get to do things like drive or ride the bus at the same time. Also, your weird purist idea of reading leaves out those who are blind, dyslexic, or have another impairment that prevents them from reading from the page and there’s no need to be ableist in your reading habits.
  4. Try new genres. I used to be the most awful book snob. In the past few years I’ve started adding mysteries and bestsellers much more than I used to. I was surprised by how much I liked them. In the past I’d read such a small selection of the sub-genres that I was writing off so many great books because I didn’t like a couple of authors.
  5. Talk to people about books. Reading gives you something to talk about when you are forced to make small talk. When people know you read, they’ll often ask you about what you’re reading and that carries the conversation without having to resort to the weather. Then they’ll tell you about what their reading. You’ll both get great recommendations. Everyone wins.
  6. Turn the TV off / put your phone down. I watch TV and I play on my smartphone a lot. Social media is my literal job. But I make myself spend at least one evening reading each week for at least an hour, I read on many of my lunch breaks, and I listen to audiobooks on the bus. Sometimes it takes 10-15 minutes for my brain to calm down and focus, but it will. Unlike when I scroll on Twitter for 20 minutes, I feel more refreshed at the end.

This is how I read 50-75 books each year. Nothing ground-breaking, but I like to think some of these things are freeing. Read what you like! Read short books! Listen to books! Set realistic goals for you. I don’t have kids, so I have more free time than my friend with three kids under five.

Reading more will enrich your life and make you a more interesting person… But that’s another letter.



Opting out: when students get a better education by not going to school

Joel Westheimer, University of Ottawa professor and research chair, said schools should be less focused on standardized testing.
Joel Westheimer, University of Ottawa professor and research chair, said schools should be less focused on standardized testing.

While some parents in Ontario threaten to opt-out of sex education, others are more interested in opting out of what’s seen as a more an integral part of education: testing.

“Teachers have been tied to having to teach a very rigid curriculum,” said Joel Westheimer, a University of Ottawa professor and research chair.

On Sept. 16, at Octopus Books at 251 Bank St., he launched a new book, What Kind of Citizen? Educating Our Children for the Common Good, that critiques the current education system for being too focused on standardized testing.

In Ontario, standardized tests are created and administered by the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO). These tests assess the math and literacy skills of students in Grades 3, 6 and 9.

“Kids call it evil questions attacking Ontario,” said Westheimer.

In his book, Westheimer writes that over the past two decades, he’s seen the focus on test preparation cause teachers to teach more math and language arts at the expense of visual art, social science, computers, health and physical education.

“Instead of measuring the things that we care about,” he said, “we start to care about the things that we can measure.”

Erika Shaker, director of the Education Project for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), said the research done by the Ottawa-based policy research group has found that wealthier children tend to do better on standardized tests—their schools, in turn, receive better funding, increasing the disparity in quality of education along class lines.

Shaker has a daughter in the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. After discussing her concerns about standardized testing, she said her daughter chose not to participate in the Grade 3 EQAO test.

“I didn’t see it as an effective use of class time,” Shaker said.

On the day of the test, she said her daughter did classwork at home in the morning and went to school once the testing period was over. Shaker said the school was fine with it: “It was a non-issue.”

More parents across the province have been choosing to opt-out of the tests. Jennifer Adams, director of the Ottawa-Carleton School Board said her board “strongly encourages” students to write the tests.

At the book launch, Westheimer said that while he supports the opt-out movement, he isn’t entirely against standardized testing—assessing schools as a barometer for how things are going can be a good thing.
“It’s not like there are big, bad, evil administrators trying to harm children,” he said. “Everyone’s trying to do what they think is the best thing.”