virtual children by Scott Warnock

Reading, leading, and summer’s receding

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I tried so hard to resist this summer, and I nearly did it: I almost made it through those hazy months without scrawling a lament about kids and reading. But now we’re at the end, and I again am coming off another three months of banging my head against the wall trying to get the kids around me to read, so, well, better luck next year.

Blame LinkedIn. In my InBox appeared this little piece: “Why Leaders Must be Readers:” (sic; the colon’s in the title). Coming from the humanities, I’m sure that people will expect me to talk up reading. And I do. But I found it interesting that LinkedIn, which is trying to cultivate professional presence and networks, emphasized this subject. The accompanying picture is of Bill Gates (how’d you like to be snuggled into his network?).

Lived experience is good – Plato explores this in Phaedrus – but reading provides an entree into the minds and thoughts of others. In what better way can you overcome your small prejudices than by entering and considering the mindsets of others?

Books help us do that.

Other texts can too, mind you. Some of my well-read friends now rip through short-form texts, but they read a lot of them: Blogs, zines, news bits, etc. They dip into a lot in a small amount of time this way.

But the long-form text — let’s still call it the book — offers you the opportunity to see that marvelous thing, the human mind, puzzle over a long, detailed problem through the technology of writing.

Leaders must be readers, that LinkedIn article says. Or else how else will they know what’s been — and what might be?

The problem is that these are the kind of traits you want your kids — and, for me at least, the kids they hang out with — to have: To be leaders, thinkers, to be able to show not just sympathy but empathy. So I tried to sit back on the topic of reading, but I can’t because it’s just too important.

This summer, as usual, I had my partial successes. I’m sure an enduring memory my kids will have is of my nagging them almost daily to hack away at the books I’ve “recommended.” They probably will also remember that crestfallen look when they didn’t eagerly tackle the next book.

But I think, no matter what heights they rise to, that they will be intellectually hamstrung if they don’t read. They may succeed, but in a blundering, dangerous kind of way — a way that ultimately may not make them happy. And I want them, above all else, to be happy.

I look at that picture of Gates and I think, “We wouldn’t want a leader who was too ignorant to read, would we, Bill? Would we?”

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.
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4 Responses to “Reading, leading, and summer’s receding”

  1. “What better way can you overcome your small prejudices than entering and considering the mindsets of others?”

    Scott, this article is brilliant. ??

  2. Can someone forward this to president@whitehouse.gov?

  3. When I was over summer vacation sometime around 3rd/4th grade, I said to my mother, “Mom, I’m bored.” She said, “Well, read!” “What?” She went upstairs and brought down a hardbound copy of C.S. Forrester’s _Mr. Midshipman Hornblower.” I loved it. She/they owned the entire Hornblower series, and my mother knew the right order, in terms of Hornblower’s career (fictitious, of course) to carry me, in order, from Mr. Midshipman all the way up to Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies. I loved it, almost as much as I would love The Hobbit less than a year later. Some 30+ years later, after I finished my MA in Creative Writing I bought a book about Forrester and Hornblower, found all the books, then read them in the order in which they had been written–a most interesting and slightly different approach, emphasizing the writer and not the character. Even today, 20 more years later, I go back to a Hornblower book when I need some shameless optimism.

  4. This post has me excited for my next good book!
    Maybe some good fiction…I heard Hillary just opined on “What Happened”…that should do it, unless it turns out to be more of a comedic read…

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