Learning to Love Reading: Grade School Library Edition

It was my last library period before spring break in grade 3. I usually only signed out library books for a few days, reading them surreptitiously under my desk while the teacher yammered on. The librarian approached me and said, “We just got this new Almanac of Birds in. You should take it home and read it over Spring Break.”

“Sure” is what I may have said, but I remember being somewhat dumbfounded. I didn’t (and don’t) care much for birds.1 We had shelves full of books at home, and until this point, library books seemed somehow sacrosanct. But now I’d been entrusted with a book that didn’t even have a card in it yet.

I remember almost nothing of the book,2 but the feeling of a crisp new book that wasn’t even mine remains. It wasn’t a thin book, but I read and browsed through it several times over that week. In my first post-spring break library period, the librarian treated it like no big deal when I handed the book back, even asking if I wanted to sign it out for longer. I stammered that I’d read it thoroughly and moved on to a new Hardy Boys book.

I relate this vignette not because of any inherent charm, but rather because it contrasts against the experience of eight-year-olds today. Let’s just imagine that most of their reading happens on some gamut of smartphones, tablets and/or desktops. They may not even have a library period at school. Or a library. If they do, what about in ten years? 20 years? Will they ever feel the wonder of being entrusted with a crisp, brand new book? Could receiving a heretofore unknown URL compare?

The point here isn’t so much that my childhood embodied the Platonic Form of Developing Love For Reading. Rather, I wonder how this world of multi-functional-devices-on-which-you-can-also-read will inculcate a love of reading? I seldom took library books home because I read them in a dedicated library period in which you were physically incapable of doing anything else.3

What if I lived in age where a library period consisted of time spent on multi-functional-devices-on-which-you-can-also-read? There’s a good chance I would have screwed around, circumventing to the best of my ability the Internet filters in place attempting to keep me focused on Serious Learning. Would I have learned habits of reading a single text at length over a solid period of time?

These aren’t just rhetorical questions trying to bemoan the current state of affairs. We always complain that things are moving too fast. I sincerely don’t know how “kids these days” will develop a love for reading, let alone the ability to read at length with sustained concentration. This doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t: most kids my age didn’t either.

I have to hope that, no matter the learning medium, insatiable curiousity will win out; that the pursuit of knowledge will always trump distractability, and that as romantic as libraries may be, they merely encode this drive towards learning, but cannot contain it.

  1. Some people, on the other hand, are too into birds
  2. I only recall looking at the entry on blue jays frequently, being a Canadian and enamoured of baseball. 
  3. And, as mentioned earlier, I also often read under my desk in class. I was occasionally caught, at which point I suspected my teachers were secretly delighted. I doubt under-the-desk tablet computers would evoke the same sentiment. 


The new iPad launches today, promping the faithful throngs to queue at Apple stores (and authorized resellers) worldwide to obtain this latest object of desire that we didn’t know we could live without just two short years ago. I jump from them to “we” because I like my first generation iPad very much and, to my shame, I was in line to obtain it on its launch day about two years ago.1

What disturbs me about Apple is the religion of it. It’s not just that their customers have attached transcendent meaning to Apple and its products, but that Apple actively cultivates veneration. When I spent three shame-faced hours in line for my iPad two years ago, the employees came out clapping and cheering as the Apple Store was about to open, trying to whip us up into a frenzy. I gritted my teeth, feeling as awkward as a Jew at a Pentecostal revival. I didn’t want to get saved, I just wanted to exchange money for a consumer good.

It’s not that I’m just blaming Apple, but us as well. We’re the ones lapping this up; the ones lining up the night before for the “privilege” of getting to drop $500+ on one of these things. We’re the people whose only commitment is to instant gratification, but we conjure long-suffering as we reverently await the availability of a consumer good.

And yet, here I see glimmers of hope; of people striving to connect with something transcendent and significant. They’re horribly misguided, but the underlying impulse is sound and good. I believe that following Jesus in self-giving love is the answer to this religious impulse, but I’d settle for anything that looks a little more like service or love or justice and a little less like conspicuous consumption.

  1. As a web designer, I knew that the iPad would be incredibly important to test my sites on. Or so I justified it. 

Just Say You’re Welcome


“No problem.”

You’ve probably heard this nonsensical conversation today at some point. It’s as if two separate exchanges have fused into a couplet of collective insanity. Those two exchanges:

Exchange I

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Exchange II

“Is this a problem?”

“No problem.”

Both of those exchanges makes sense on their own, but it has become normal to answer the first with the second. I think that this betrays some very unhealthy currents in our culture, which I will explore in curmudgeonly fashion.

An initial caveat: I’m not naive enough to believe that language should somehow remain static and pure. Language is a product of culture, and culture of history, which means that a language that isn’t adapting, growing, and generally evolving, is dead. Used languages change.

But here’s Etiquette 101: When thanked by another person, the appropriate response is “You’re welcome.” It is direct, proper, and has a long history of being the appropriate social convention.1

Why then has “no problem” become the new default? I believe that the underlying assumption is that the person who just thanked you is anxious that the thank-worthy deed you did might have been somehow inconvenient, annoying, or just plain difficult for you. The sought-after “No problem” response is a way to relieve the thanker of any sense of actual obligation towards the person thanked. The “no problem” response vaporizes the deed done. “No problem.” Nothing just happened.

The implicit economics are not the only interesting thing occurring in the “thank you/no problem” exchange. To actually say “you’re welcome” would expose the thanker’s receipt of something from outside their own agency; that they possibly even required something from someone else to make it in the world. This doesn’t square with our pervasive individualism as a culture, where we’re all supposded to be self-made men.2

The more I think about this exchange, the more I think about George Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language, which masterfully exposes the use of empty language and how it actually matters:

A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

Sloppy language begets slovenly thinking. I understand the power of social conventions, but I also understand the power of words doing more than just filling in space. Make your words count. You’re welcome.

  1. “My pleasure” as a response should be used sparingly, as it is rare that it actually is your pleasure. 
  2. I say men because, in my experience, women are much smarter and don’t buy into this as readily. 

[L]iberalism and fundamentalism form a “totality”:…

[L]iberalism and fundamentalism form a “totality”: the opposition of liberalism and fundamentalism is structured so that liberalism itself generates its opposite. So what about the core values of liberalism: freedom, equality, fraternity? The paradox is that liberalism itself is not strong enough to save them against the fundamentalist onslaught.

Fundamentalism is a reaction – a false, mystifying, reaction, of course – against a real flaw of liberalism, and this is why it is again and again generated by liberalism. Left to itself, liberalism will slowly undermine itself – the only thing that can save its core is a renewed Left.

Living in Community is Weird

The question I’ve heard pretty often since moving into an intentional community is “how can you live that way?”1 This is said in all sincerity—often in not so many words—as though I’d moved to another planet or joined one of those isolated tribes you see on National Geographic.

At this point I usually make a simple observation: it’s the “normal” way that we live in North America that’s truly weird. The dominance of the single-detached family home is an historical abnormality. Most people in most places at most times in history (including most people today) have lived communally in one form or another. We are the first people in history with no practical need for our neighbours.

Not only this, but what’s driving people like me back to community is the sneaking suspicion that this individualistic experiment has been a huge mistake; that it’s unsustainable economically, environmentally, politically, spiritually, and likely a whole lot of other -lys. We need to get over the fantasy of individualism and learn what it means that we’re in this together.

  1. To clarify what community means for us: we have very small personal spaces, favouring larger shared spaces. We all pay room & board, meaning our food is likewise shared.