Category Archives: For Beginners

Picking Up the Habit Again

d7b2ac6ca6ef4b923b88ee87a73c74e4No matter how much of an avid reader we are, we all go through phases in life sometimes where our reading habits slow or stop altogether. Maybe there’s been some loss or grief that causes us to lose interest in things we once enjoyed, or maybe life gets really complicated and super-hectic for a season and we have to decide we need to scale back our activities to just the basics. These phases are normal, necessary, and are a part of life. But they should definitely temporary.

It’s important to try to pick up reading again, for several reasons. One is that whatever we’re going through, we can always find a book where the characters are going through something we can identify with, and reading about them is like walking with a friend who’s going through the journey with you. There have been many times when I’ve read a fiction book that was like a healing balm to my soul. Another reason is that sometimes it’s just plain okay to read a book to escape the pressures of this world for a little while. I’m not suggesting forming an addiction or living in complete escapism all the time, but looking forward to a reading hour can be helpful. I remember a season a while back where I was super busy and read less books than I ever did in my life, and I regret having set aside reading fiction during that time. This is because I think I could have benefited learning from some of the characters’ lives in the book I gave up. They could have helped me see some of my own circumstances from a bird’s eye view, or perhaps even the consequences of some of my decisions.

So, how do we form reading habits if we’ve never done so before, or how to begin again after a dry lull? Here are some tips and ideas:

First, set an easy goal for yourself. This could be one book a month.  That’s fine! Or, one fiction book a month and one non-fiction book a month. Hey, any goal is a good one if you haven’t been reading much before! If you find the goal you set is much too easy, you can always tweak it later. Pick something short, fun, and enjoyable. Don’t try to tackle some tome of Russian literature because you feel you ought to make up for lost time. This will only lead to discouragement and burnout.  Perhaps start a list of books you’d like to read, fed by suggestions by goodreads, the CBD website, newest books at your local library, or BookPage (or AudioFile magazine, if you like audiobooks).

60300eb4a6aef362cec9d7bb8f74e5caBook clubs interest many because they can then set a deadline goal for when to finish the book and talk about it with others after they’ve finished. If book clubs aren’t your thing, maybe you have a friend who’s read the same book (or they can recommend a good read to you) and you can discuss it later. Of course, there’s always the Midday Connection book clubs, too.

Set some time apart each day to read. This could be a designated hour or a spot in your daily routine. I like to read in the evenings after supper’s eaten and chores are done. Sometimes I read for an hour and a half. Sometimes I don’t read a whole lot, depending on whatever else I needed to get done first. But at the very least I try to read 2 pages. At least that’s forward progress and keeps me checked into the story!

Once you’re halfway through the book, plan out what you want to read next (this is usually when I start to order my next book on interlibrary loan if my own local library doesn’t have it). This will amp up the anticipation and the feeling of moving toward your goal. It keeps me motivated! And when you’ve finished a book and close it’s cover for the last time, there is a great feeling of accomlishment that comes and you’ll want to pick up your next book to experience that feeling over and over. Make sure you keep a list, too! Being able to add another title to your ever growing list of accomplishments will help to keep the ball rolling.


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Posted by on November 11, 2014 in For Beginners


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The Art of Reading Aloud: Read It Like You Hear It


“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”    — Albert Einstein  “Ein Märchen” (The Fairy Tale), Artist unknown, circa 1900When I attended public school, my teachers would often assign an hour for our class to take turns reading paragraphs of a short story aloud.  This was a wonderful idea!  For one, it developed reading proficiency and other unique skills that can only be experienced when people read out loud to one another.  Not to mention engaging in performance.  Don’t imagine that most of the class was thrilled or saw this as highly beneficial to development.  In fact, I didn’t look forward to it much either.  Reading time was boring because of an apparent lack of many children’s reading skills.  I am not sure what were the exact causes.  Since kids stumbled over simple vocabulary, I suspect reading disabilities like dyslexia were to blame.  I’m sure that in making us read aloud the teacher was able to see who was struggling and assign further aid for them.  Another reason could very well be the fact that many kids today do not have parents who take the time to read with them to help further develop a love of reading.  TV and social media is the more common source of entertainment, and as we all know texting improves one’s spelling [NOT!].  Then again, it could have been the short story selections we were to read from were so boring in and of themselves, that no one was very excited about reading them.  But that’s another rant for another day…

One time our teacher had us read an adapted script from the old radio play The War of the Worlds.   Somehow this failed to ignite most of the kids’ enthusiasm.  Lines dragged on and on…  I felt like saying, “Come on people!  This story is about an alien invasion!  People are freaking out and are calling for the military and fire department!  Put some whiz bangs into it!”

This problem doesn’t just affect younger readers.  Unfortunately, I think a lot of people don’t know how to read well.  I’m not talking about those who struggle with dyslexia (that’s an understandably different matter altogether), although there have been studies that show reading out loud, paired with other techniques, may aid those with reading disabilities.  Some people may know how to read and may not struggle with comprehension or pronunciation, but yet reading aloud produces inhibitions and other interfering barriers betwixt the brain and the mouth.  For some reason, we tend to become more demure when we read out loud.  Therefore, it isn’t quite as fulfilling as the experience should be.

If you feel you need a little improvement in this area, I hope the following tips will be helpful to you.

Love this Hilton Hassell illustration of Anne and Gilbert!I recommend starting where you feel safe that no one will overhear you.  It’s just you and your book.  Take each sentence at a time, but most especially the words between the quotation marks (spoken lines of the characters).  Let’s take a scene out of a famous book:

Gilbert reached across the aisle, picked up the end of Anne’s long red braid, held it out at arm’s length and said in a piercing whisper:

“Carrots! Carrots!”

Then Anne looked at him with a vengeance!

She did more than look. She sprang to her feet, her bright fancies fallen into cureless ruin. She flashed one indignant glance at Gilbert from eyes whose angry sparkle was swiftly quenched in equally angry tears.

“You mean, hateful boy!” she exclaimed passionately. “How dare you!”

And then—thwack! Anne had brought her slate down on Gilbert’s head and cracked it—slate not head—clear across.

[From Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery]

You’ve imagined the scene; now read the first quoted line silently to yourself.

“Carrots! Carrots!”

How did you hear Gilbert speak that when you were imagining it in your head?  Probably in a nasty, teasing sort of way.  The text says he said it in a piercing whisper.  You can further imagine this by perhaps recalling a similar memory from your past where either you were teased or the one who did the teasing.

“Carrots! Carrots!”

Now speak the line out loud, trying to recreate the emotion aloud that you had heard in your head.  What’s your best piercing whisper?

A lot of this involves putting yourself in the character’s place.  I find that I become more empathetic of the characters this way.  I think it helps us get in touch with our emotions, and it certainly makes creative use of our imagination and hones our acting.

Anne of Green Gables - "Psst! Carrots! Carrots!"On to the next spoken line:

“You mean, hateful boy!” she exclaimed passionately. “How dare you!”

Here we get more of a clue about how to read this.  She exclaimed passionately.  How would you imagine this would sound?  Imagine first, then say it out loud.

“You mean, hateful boy!”  ….

“How dare you!”

Filling the sentences with emotion doesn’t have to stop with what’s between quotation marks.  Narration is filled with emotion as well.  For ex.,

Then Anne looked at him with a vengeance!

This sentence would not be read the same way we read Gilbert’s “Carrots!  Carrots!”  This time, we imagine ourselves as humiliated Anne, slowly turning in her seat with blazing eyes to face whom she considers as the ‘hateful boy.’  We imagine, empathize, and then let our voice communicate it out loud.

Audiobooks are great resources to not only experience a story read aloud to you, but also to take tips away to use for yourself when it’s just you and your book.

There are other ways we can make reading out loud fun.  We can imagine what the voices of the characters sound like.  We don’t all have the talent for producing cartoon voices and that isn’t necessary, anyway.  It doesn’t have to be over the top.  But some suggestions would be to soften the voice for females and deepen slightly for the men [careful now, I don’t want to be the cause of a rise in throat cancer].  Maybe higher voices for children, shaky for the elderly.  Attempting accents are always fun, too.

You can improve your reading if you feel you need to/want to at any age.  But it’s always nice to start young.  If you’re teaching young children to read the way they imagine the story in their heads, they may have a greater love of learning that will last them throughout life.

Allow yourself to feel silly.  No one’s watching.  We get better over time, and hopefully it will become more fun.  The goal is have a more fulfilling, colorful reading experience—one that comes alive with our imagination!











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The Art of Reading Aloud: Storytelling to Yourself

Little Girl Reading FairyTalesWhen I was in middle school, you would never recognize me without a book.  I didn’t have any friends to hang out with, and if you were unoccupied you were fair game for the bullies.  So having a book was my way of escaping and avoiding, I guess.  I could pretend I was someplace else, and could totally become oblivious to the world and noise around me.

When I was 13, my mom and dad chose to homeschool me (and contrary to a common myth out there that homeschoolers lack social skills, I came out of my shell, learned to socialize, and made friends… but that’s a different story for a different time).  Homeschooling means a lot of required reading.  A lot!  So I could take my book history book on the Vikings to my bedroom and it was there that I learned to read out loud to myself.

Perhaps you could make a case that my ‘reading aloud career’ started when I was 4 or 5 years old—when I narrated my picture books on the tape recorder that my mom provided to keep me occupied.  I think I was actually obsessed with the red light on the record button.  Then, as I grew older and learned to read simple children’s books for myself, I would record those.  In 6th grade, I would read my history homework assignments out loud to myself.  I think this might have been because I remembered what I was reading more.

And I read lots of Nancy Drew books to my sister, so I’d much practice reading for an audience, but it wasn’t until I was homeschooled teenager that I started reading aloud just for myself.  I started practicing honing my diction and enunciation.  I don’t really know why I started doing that.  Perhaps it was the perfectionistic side of me.  However, drilling this into myself at an early age certainly has made it a lot easier and it sounds a lot more natural now.  I don’t have to think twice about it, or make a concerted effort.  This is why I think it is important for children to learn the art of reading aloud.  It was as a teenager while learning to read the classics that I discovered my genuine love of vocal reading.

This article will be the first in a series about the importance of reading out loud, or “The Art of Reading Aloud,” as I like to call it.  Because it is an art.  And a fun one at that!

If this is something that hasn’t occurred to you before, you might be asking Why is it so important??  We think of reading out loud to children, or maybe to an elderly person, but what about to ourselves?  What’s the difference between vocal reading and silent reading?  At least you’re reading!  Yes, I’ll agree.  And I cannot speak universally, only from my own experience, so here it goes…

For me, reading the stories out loud makes them seem more real.  They come alive!  It’s like the difference between eating vanilla ice cream and eating Coldstone Vanilla Ice Cream with butterfinger candy bars, carmel, and graham cracker crust mixed in!  Plain vanilla is nice, and some people may prefer it better for special reasons.  But the other kind with all the extras adds dimension and crunch and gooiness.  You don’t know what you’re missing until you try it!  I now find it nearly impossible to comprehend and really involve myself in a good fiction story, without reading it out loud to myself, or at least whisper read if I have to be quieter.  I suppose this is because I am listening to my voice acting out the emotion of the story.  I feel it enables me to experience it at a deeper level.  I get easily distracted trying to read silently.  I start skim reading, which doesn’t enable me to experience it by half.

I also like to listen to the words.  I like to feel the sound of them slip up from my throat and over my tongue.  It makes me appreciate the words the author chose when I can hear them put together!

Delphin Enjolras (May 13, 1857–1945) was a French academic painter. Enjolras painted portraits, nudes, interiors, and used mostly watercolours, oil and pastels. He is best known for his intimate portraits of young women performing mundane activities such as reading or sewing, often by illuminated by lamplight. Perhaps his most famous work is the "Young Woman Reading by a Window"So, here is an exercise that I encourage anyone reading this try if you never have before.  Next time you sit down to read, read just to yourself alone out loud.  Choose a place and time when no one will be around to overhear you and make you feel self-conscious.  In some future post, I will submit tips and links to fun websites where you can learn to improve the art of reading aloud.  I am not a professional audio book narrator (though that is my dream) and I do not know everything on the subject; I only hope to pass along what I learn to you.  But right now the point is to just jump in and try it, mistakes and all.  No Internal Criticizers allowed!

You know… the voices that whisper in your ear things like, “You sound so stupid.  You can’t even pay attention to the story because you’re paying so much attention to how stupid you sound.  You don’t sound interesting.  You don’t even know how to pronounce that word.  You can’t make a believable British accent…” Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard those from myself, too.  But you seriously aren’t going to let that stop you from enjoying life more, are you?  Who cares if you don’t sound ‘interesting’?  Tell yourself right back: “So?  I’m just starting out and no one else can hear me.  I’m learning.  I’m just having fun and playing around.  I’m not setting out to win an Audi Award.”  It’s just like learning to do anything else, like piano or tennis.

So first thing, learn to get comfortable reading to yourself.  Have you ever listened to your own recorded voice?  Although this is hard to believe in today’s media age, a lot of people have never heard themselves.  Please, please try this if you haven’t!  If you have, you may feel inhibited because you don’t think you have a “good” voice.  Some people even loathe hearing their own voice, not because it really sounds all that bad, but they hate listening to themselves!  This is so sad, and I think it stems from a form of self-hatred that needs to be overcome.  You can gradually learn to improve the things you don’t like about your voice.  All voices have their pros and cons and no one is perfect, but everyone has something positive about their voice!  My Mom doesn’t like how her voice sounds so low, but if you’re female and you have an alto voice, it makes it easier to read the male characters’ voices!  My Grandpa doesn’t like how his bass voice has gradually gotten higher pitched as he’s aged, but I enjoy listening to his peaceful, mellow voice.

But keep trying, keep practicing, keep doing!  Just pretend as though you’ve been a professional audio book narrator your whole life.  Starting out with confidence makes a world of difference.  After a little while of gained confidence and learning to improve, you won’t hear those voices in your head anymore.

A lot of ‘imperfections’ work themselves out, anyway.  If you stumble, you will soon learn be able to read longer without stumbling.  Reading out loud has many more benefits that what I can list here, but becoming voice conscious is a good thing.  I wish more people were.  It really is a learned skill.  Being voice conscious not only helps you as you read out loud, but also you will gradually learn to be voice conscious subconsciously when you are not reading out loud!  You will learn to speak up so others can hear you, not harshly blast others’ ears out, speak with clarity and proper diction, and not mumble.  You will be aware of the ups and downs of your voice, the lilt, and musical notes of the way you say things.  You will be able to identify accents in others, and aware of it in yourself (whether you perceive this as a bad thing and want to change it, or a good thing and want to ‘hold onto’ your accent if you happen to move!)

J.C. Leyendecker 'The Arrow Collar Man reading book' 1916 by Plum leaves (in), via FlickrI think another reason why I love to read out loud is that there is an unfulfilled acting desire within me.  And reading aloud is that—acting.  More specifically, it is storytelling to yourself!  You don’t have to stress yourself out about really performing over the top for yourself (but as you have more and more fun, I hope you will!).  If doing voices and accents really isn’t your thing, no one says you have to.  But try and let yourself go!

Does getting a hoarse voice inhibit you?  I find whisper-reading the narration and only speaking aloud the dialogue helps a stressed out voice.

I don’t know much on this subject, I’m just throwing it out there, but some find that reading out loud helps them with dyslexia and ADHD.

Visiting the free downloadable audiobooks on Librivox may help you get over some of your inhibitions and inspire you to volunteer yourself!  Just ordinary volunteers reading books in the public domain, like a good friend reading out loud to you on a Sunday afternoon on the back porch!

I hope to have a future post on reading aloud to others.

If you have already discovered the joy of reading out loud, feel welcome to share what you love about it!

The king listens to himself reading…


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The Notebook

One of my favorite parts about reading is the notebook I keep.  Perhaps this appeals to the OCD tendencies in me.  In any case, it’s just plain fun!

One summer about 10 years ago I spent a week with my favorite Aunt E.  One day I happened across a little notebook she kept of the titles of books she wanted to read or look up at the library.  “What a wonderful idea!” I thought, and consequently went home and made my own.

At first I started out with a little spiral notebook, just like Aunt E’s.  I filled the pages with all the titles I’d ever wanted to read, books that my favorite movies were based on, and books recommended to me by others.  That wasn’t enough—hording book titles was getting too addictive, so I took an old encyclopedia off the shelf and looked up ‘Classic Literature’, picking out the titles of books that looked good to me.  I went to the library and combed the shelves looking for titles, authors, and genres that screamed, READ ME!  If I discovered a book I loved, I looked up all the titles by the same author and copied them down.  In recent years, my collection has been added to by discoveries on LibriVox catalog, CBD catalog, and like-minded blogs.  Needless to say, I have since graduated to a much larger Mead lined notebook.

My Precious Notebook

My Precious Notebook

I want to make note that although it is a lot of fun to add more exciting discoveries to my collection (every book is a new world!), I don’t collect titles just to collect titles.  I want to pick and choose with care.  Only the books that seem the most likely to interest me or be good for me.  I don’t like to add “fluffy books”, just so I can anticipate hitting my 2,000th title mark.

Running out of room in the B section.

Running out of room in the B section.

I won’t get into how preoccupied I have sometimes gotten in the past over arranging my lists so precisely.  Yes, I am a list-maker, list-lover, list-liver…  If I’m not careful, this can take up a great deal of precious living, and I must remember there are other more important things to do.  But I do alphabetize the authors in the back of the notebook to make my life easier.  This aids me in finding a particular author already in my list, and keeps me from repeating titles.  I also keep a separate notebook just for non-fiction, categorized by subjects.

I’ve also found that leaving a few empty lines of space below a series or list of books by a certain author (especially if you’re not sure you have a complete list) allows you to add more later as you find them.  I’ve spent too many countless hours rearranging my lists because I didn’t have enough room when I discovered there were three more books to a series I was interested in.

After a book has been read, I like to check-mark it off in my notebook with the date I finished it.  Once you have completed several books, this gives you feel-good sense of accomplishment.

The Napoleon of Notting Hill: Check!

The Napoleon of Notting Hill: Check!

Keeping a notebook like this has other benefits as well.  I often use it as a reference book when I need to see what author wrote “Lois the Witch.”  Or the complete series of the Miss Read books (which comes first, “Village Diary” or “Village Christmas”?)

Complete Series by Anthony Trollope

Complete Series by Anthony Trollope

It’s always a good thing to bring this book-friend along with me to the library or a used book sale, so that I can see which books of a particular series I already own at home.  Sometimes I’ll come across a book I don’t necessarily want to buy, but looks interesting enough to check to see if the library has, so my notebook keeps me from over-buying.  Then, too, if you are like me and live in an area where you have access to more than one public library, you can make note of which libraries have a certain book.

I realize that many people already keep a list of sorts online at goodreads, shelfari, or librarything which you can then practically access on your phone.  This may suit you much better and if it’s up your alley, go for it!  But I’m the old-fashioned hands-on type, who likes the feel of the pages turn, and likes to write down all the wonderful books I plan to read.  Appeals to the list-maker in me, once again.  I once tried an online list on Barnes and Noble, but just couldn’t get the same enjoyment out of it.  I just felt like I was spending too many wasted hours in front of a computer.  Besides, I couldn’t organize them the way I wanted to, and once I’d uploaded 500+ titles it took several minutes for it to load.  They didn’t have all the titles I was interested in, and then they ended up erasing my account after a few years, so thank goodness I never depended on it!  Though, what were to happen if I ever lost my precious Notebook at the library… years of effort forever gone… Shudder.  Hmmm… maybe I should make a second back-up notebook…

Sharpen your pencils!


Posted by on April 6, 2013 in For Beginners, Reading Habits


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For Beginners: Where to Start

Not only is this a book blog for staunch book lovers, but also for those just getting into the world of reading.  Maybe you’ve made some new year’s resolutions to read more, but are already starting to slump and your enthusiasm is quickly withering.

trail of books

So you want to read, but where should you start?  The question is, what makes you tick in other areas of your life?  What movies do you like to watch?  What hobbies do you enjoy?  What was your favorite subject in school?  What music do you like to listen to?  These can give you some clues as to what sorts of books might interest you, but I am going to just go with the subject of movies as an example, since it’s something almost everyone enjoys.

Make a list of your favorite movies.  How did they make you feel?  Why do you like those movies?  Was it the setting, the props, the characters, the plot, the genre?  Was it the suspense you were drawn to, the romantic triangle, or maybe you felt you identified with the people in the film.  Perhaps you liked the historical aspects of it, and found yourself studying the costumes and set design.

Favorite books to film: Cranford (based on short stories as well as the novel Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell)

(My favorite book-to-film.)

Once you’ve noticed a pattern in your likes and dislikes, look for those subjects online or at your library.  In the fiction section, most libraries will label the different genres with stickers, or categorize them into sections all their own.

Another good place to learn of good books is through book blogs, like this one.  You can get lots of good ideas once you’ve found a book reviewer who has similar tastes.  Looking up your new fav on Amazon will also bring a list of similar books that others are interested in.

Although I have never done this, many publishers have a sort of blogging for books deal, where you are sent a free book with the condition you review it online.  It could be a great way of sampling all different kinds of genres to see what you like, for free.

Pinned Image

Once I’ve discovered an author I like, I look up a complete list of their works online (Wikipedia is a good place to do this).  It’s a good idea to start with their best known works, as their lesser known books are usually lesser known for a reason.  This in no wise means you shouldn’t read them, but to start out with you would get a truer feel for the writer and your attention would probably be held better with one of their best.

However, I don’t recommend reading a whole bunch of books by the same author or genre all at once.  It can be easy to get stuck in a comfortable rut, but this quickly leads to boredom.  It’s important to grow and discover new kinds of interests.  Once you’ve identified a favorite kind of book, try a sister genre.  For example, people who like romance often like historical fiction.  Mystery lovers could move on to court room dramas, and then to espionage thrillers.  Did you like the old-fashioned classics?  Stretch yourself to try a modern classic.  Or if you indulge in adventure, trying a true-life non-fiction adventure could be your next cup of tea.  And for fantasy lovers, there’s sci-fi to try.  Don’t be inhibited exploring the children’s fiction for your favorite genres, either.

Going back to the movies: do some research and see if the film you liked was based on a book.  (Wishbone and I go back a long way…)

Series No.: S11  Title: LITERARY TASTE - How to form it, with detailed instructions for collecting a complete library of English Literature  Author: Arnold Bennett Edited: and with additional lists by Frank Swinnerton Date Published: 11 November 1938  Pages: 192.  Printer: Purnell and Sons Ltd  Price: 6d  A Pelican Special

A fun book to look into is “Literary Taste and How to Form It,” by Arnold Bennett

Don’t feel you have to start out with something really impressive and heavy, like “Les Miserables” or “Quo Vadis.”  And contrary to the librarian’s advice, you don’t have to start with “Treasure Island” (unless you want to).  It’s important not to overwhelm yourself at the start.

You don’t have to like every book, and that isn’t necessarily the point.  “Wuthering Heights,” just wasn’t my cup of tea, but I tried it.  Stretch yourself.  Sometimes I’ll finish a book I hate just to find out what it’s all about.  But it’s ok to give yourself permission to stop reading a book because you’re not clicking with it.  Better that than have your enthusiasm for reading wane because you’re forcing yourself to do something you don’t like.  Otherwise you’ll soon learn to dread your reading time.  Believe me, nothing kills the joy of reading quicker.  Don’t tie yourself to deadlines, but it may be helpful to set aside a time or minimum certain amount to read each day to keep yourself moving toward your goal: finishing the book!

And remember, reading should be enjoyable!  This blog is meant to provide lots of other ideas to have fun reading, so I hope you’ll visit again soon!

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Posted by on March 23, 2013 in For Beginners


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