The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs: Best Book of the Month

My best read this month goes to Alan Jacobs for The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. When I went to the library last week it was to find a fantasy novel (yes, I still use my reading rotation system–I went to find where I had posted it and it looks like I never have! Well there’s a Wednesday topic for next month). After selecting an Arthurian novel, I permitted myself to browse and discovered a copy of Jacobs’ book (of which I’d blogged, Read What You Like, back in March).

I love to read. It is one of my greatest pleasures. However, life is so crazy-hectic that I understand Jacob’s premise—that the ability to sit back and savor extended texts, “books,” is an important skill that must be practiced lest our attention-span for sustained thinking, reading engagement be lost to our sound-bite, twitter-feed culture.

My library copy of the book is bristling with sticky notes marking passages I wish to add to my quote collections. There is so much to reflect upon after reading this book. However, I’ll pull out a random three passages and let Jacob’s words, or those of some of the writers he quoted, speak for themselves:

When evening has come, I return to my house and go into my study. At the door I take off my clothes of the day, covered with mud and mire, and I put on my regal and courtly garments; and decently reclothed, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where I am received by them lovingly, I feed on the food that alone is mine and that I was born for. There I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the reason for their actions: and they in their humanity reply to me. And for the space of four hours I feel no boredom, I forget every pain, I do not fear poverty, death does not frighten me.  ~Niccolo Machiavelli

I hope you understand, lacking Jacobs’ set-up, Machievelli is talking about spending his evenings reading!

Discussing the internet, Jacobs refers to the writings of Sam Anderson and Cory Doctorow:

“The internet is basically a Skinner box engineered to tap right into our deepest mechanisms of addiction. (Many metaphors for this situation may suggest themselves: I am also fond of Cory Doctorow’s comment that “the biggest impediment to concentration is your computer’s ecosystem of interruption technologies.”)

Many of us try to console ourselves in the midst of the blooming and buzzing by claiming the powers of multi-tasking. But a great deal of very thorough research into multitasking has been done in recent years, and it has produced some unequivocally clear results, chief among them being: no one actually multitasks, instead, we shift among different tasks and give attention to only one at any given time.

Now don’t think Jacobs suggests we unplug from the internet and banish our computers. He acknowledges, as do I, that when we choose to use them, they are marvelous servants that help us do an amazing range of things. What he’s saying, I think, is that we ought not allow our computers and the internet to become our tyrants.

This last quote is short, sweet, and perfect to conclude with. Jacobs quotes Penelope Fitzgerald, “Twice in your life you know you are approved of by everyone—when you learn to walk and when you learn to read.” The power reading gives you over your life, your attitudes, your future, and your mind are generally acknowledged by everybody. Engage in reading; engage with the authors; engage with the texts. You will be the richer for it.

P.S. I also loved Jacobs’ biography of C.S. Lewis—The Narnian. If you haven’t read it yet, you are doubly in need of a trip to the bookstore or library!


Reading Comprehension: Surprise! Reading Response Exercise #86


Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes.


Think about what you have read. What did you encounter that you found surprising? Why was it surprising?

If you did not encounter anything surprising, what do you think were the author’s intentions in writing what you read in this manner?


Write or discuss your responses with your reading partners.

Preschool Literacy


Enjoy a picture book with your preschooler.


When you get done reading it, ask her if anything in the story surprised her. (If she says nothing surprised her, ask her how she liked the ending.


Discuss his response. Enjoy book talking with your preschooler.

The Measure of Wealth: Play With Your Words Writing Prompt #63

“Measure wealth not by the things you have, but by the things you have for which you would not take money.”

I find that a pretty powerful quote, and wanting to attribute it properly did a web search to see who first said this. While I didn’t ever find a source for the quote beyond “Unknown” and “Anonymous,” it was interesting to encounter the variety of titles that had utilized these words: Lifestyles of the Rich and Idle, Obstacles to Living Life Fully: Possessions, Where is Your Value? and even the header of the agenda for the Hermosa Beach City Council meeting of May 2, 2012.


Think about this quote and the titles of the websites and articles that used it. Why do you think the writers of any of those articles found the quote appropriate to their subject?

  • What do you think about the quote?
  • Do you agree?
  • Disagree?


  • How do you measure your wealth?
  • What do you value?
  • Is there anything for which you would not take money?


Write an expository essay exploring one of your strands of thought. Remember to include an introduction and conclusion, book-ending a body that is rich with examples and detail.


When done, read what you’ve written with your writing partners or share as a comment here. Compliment one another on the clarity of the writing. Consider:

  • Is the topic introduced in an interesting manner?
  • Does the body of the essay contain examples and descriptive detail?
  • Does the conclusion leave the reader feeling that this piece of writing is complete.

Enjoy one another’s variety of perspectives!

Preschool Literacy:


Gather paper and writing materials.

Ask your preschooler, “What is something you love?” The answer could be a person, a thing, or an activity. Follow up by asking him to describe it.


Write down everything she tells you.


When you are done, read back what he  said, pointing to the words as you say them to reinforce the one to one correspondence between written and spoke word. Find some clip art, pictures from magazines, or stickers to illustrate it, and post the writing where it can be shared with others.

Journaling: A Writer’s Work, A Writer’s Life

Dream Journal by Druidchickz
Narrative writing is a skill all students must learn and all writers must master—whether you write memoir, fiction, or non-fiction. Daily journal-writing can be a fun way to build this skill, but anyone who has ever kept a sixth-grade diary knows the learning and development as a writer can be lost if one falls prey to the tedium of day-by-day. In “Journaling Without Tedium,” Ruth O’Neil, writing for this spring, listed some journaling topics any author could mine for future projects. Here they are:
Write down memories from your childhood.
Write about things children say and do.
Write your prayers.
Write down family stories that you have been told by older relatives.

O’Neil includes ideas to help mold your journaling into finished articles and stories, and shares tips for organization. For example, she keeps a separate journal for each kind of journal-writing she does; that way when she wants to go back and find something she remembers writing, there are not so many unrelated entries to scan.

I have found journaling to be a valued method of exploring and learning from experiences, emotions, and ideas. And if you ever go back to read what you’ve written, you can trace the arc that has made you who you are today.

Keep a journal. Play with your words. Dig deep. Describe in detail. You may even find you feel saner and calmer for having done so.

P.S. Check out the other journals I have collected on Pinterest—Search “Deborah Zigenis-Lowery” or “Journals”

“Don’t Talk to Me Like That” or “Sweetheart, Tell Me More”/Reading Response Exercise #85


Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. If you’re in a private enough space, read the dialogue out loud.


When done, think about what you have read. How do other characters talk to the main character in your reading? How does the main character talk to them?  How would you describe it? Would you like to talked to in the manner these characters talk to each other? Why or Why not?


Share your responses with your reading partners.

Preschool Literacy:


Enjoy a picture book with your preschooler.


When done, ask her what she thought about the way the characters talked to each other? Would he like to be talked to that way? Why or why not?

Expository “Play With Your Words” Writing Prompt #62: What Feeds or Destroys Your Soul?

What feeds your soul? What sets your spirit free? What fills you with joy like an overflowing glass of lemonade?

What sucks the life out of you? What destroys your soul? What leaves you feeling like shriveled piece of seaweed overbaked on a sandy beach?


Make two lists. One answering the first set of questions, and one answering the second. Look over your list and choose a topic to write about.


Write an expository essay describing one thing that feeds or destroys your soul. Is it an activity, a situation, a person? What do you feel like in the grip of it? How can you minimize or maximize your encounters with it? What would your life be like without it?


When done, read what you’ve written with your writing partners or share as a comment. Compliment one another on the strengths/likes.

Preschool Literacy:


Sit down with your preschooler and ask him and her what she likes to do. Write down her answers in the form of a list. Read the list back to her, pointing to the words as you say them to reinforce the one to one correspondence between written and spoke word. Ask her what she would like to “write” about.


On a fresh piece of paper write down everything the child tells you about his favorite activity. When he runs out things to say, ask questions:

  • Who do you like to  do this with?
  • How do you feel when you are doing this?
  • How often would you like to do this?
  • For how long?…


When you are done, read back what he or she has said, again pointing to the words as you say them. Using crayons, stickers, clip-art or collage decorate this piece of “writing” and post it where family members can enjoy it.

Pinterest: House of Inspiration

I have a friend who recently introduced me to Pinterest. Little did she know she was creating a monster.

Initially, I was reluctant to get involved with Pinterest. I’m a writer and a teacher. Surely there are better places to invest my time… Wrong! When I saw some of my friend’s collections, I fell in love.

So, what can you find if you visit me at Pinterest? Here’s the “boards” I’ve created so far. (See—I’m even learning the lingo!)

In the category of “Cooking” I have:

  • Appetizers, My Favorite Meal
  • Very Veggies
  • Cozy Casseroles
  • I am the Cookie Monster
  • Sandwiches
  • Pasta, Mm…
  • Breakfast!
  • Cookin’ Slow
  • Slurp it up, Soups
  • Salads
  • And…Too Cute Cakes

I know, this is a teaching and writing blog, so where is the literacy tie-in? (Well, first of all, don’t forget that cooking helps students learn Reading and Math.) In addition, I have two specifically “teaching boards”—one, oh-so-creatively named, “Teach” and the other “Language Arts and Literacy.” There is also an “About Books and Reading” board. Still in the very early planning stages are a “Books that Made Me Who I Am” board and another board, “Reading Log—Best of…” Which will tie back to my reading log here.

I also have some writing inspiration boards. I found and fell in love with some awesome journals that I had to “collect” (especially since I generally journal on my computer nowadays). Just looking at them makes me want to be creative.

Another board I have is “Storybook Style.” This contains items to inspire my writing for children and to delight my granddaughters if they ever wanted to look at Pinterest with YeaYea.

The forest, any kind of forest, always inspires me so there is a board for “Woods and Trees and Whispering Leaves.”

And then there are the “settings” boards…  Some I have collected in the category “Settings to Set the Imagination Free.” But there’s more, many more. Check out:

  •  “World Trippin’”
  • “Cathedrals and Sacred Places”
  • “Libraries”
  • “Homes, Furnishings, Accessories: Design!”
  • “Fairy Tale Illustration,” “Castles,” and “A Feast for the Eyes” (all still in very formative stages)
  • “All Creation Sings His Praise.” (The natural world is one of my biggest inspirations!)

If you, too, are on Pinterest, please pop by and see my goodies. (I feel like a curator with my very own awesome museum.) Get inspired to write, or start a “museum” of your own ;-), with the objective, of course, of inspiring yourself and others!

P.S. I’d post a link here, but I’m still too much of a Luddite and a newbie to have figured out how to do it? Can anyone help me?

Characters, What Kind of a Relationship do You Call This? Reading Response Exercise #84


Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes.


Choose two characters from the story. Make sure they know each other.


Evaluate their relationship. Is it good or bad? Healthy or unhealthy? Close or distant? What do they think about each other? How does this impact the story?


Discuss your responses with your reading partners or share as a comment here. Please remember if you share here to include the title of the book and its author. Your “response” could prove intriguing enough that someone else would like to read the book as well.

Preschool Literacy


Enjoy a picture book with your preschooler.


Select two characters who interacted in the story and ask, “What do you think about the way these two treated each other?”

Other good questions could include:

  • Do you think they are friends? Why or why not?
  • Who would you like to have for a friend? Why did you choose this character?


Enjoy having a literary discussion with your preschooler!

Edit Adjectives: Play With Your Words Writing Prompt #61


For this editing exercise, select a piece of writing you have been working on and make a copy (either as a computer document or a paper print-out, depending on which format you most like to work with).


Go through your document, crossing out all adjectives. (Remember, adjectives are words that describe nouns–and nouns are words for people, places, and things.)


Read what remains.

List, and then add back in only the adjectives you feel are absolutely necessary to convey the meaning you intended.

Make a separate list of all the adjectives you were able to leave out.


What kinds of adjectives needed to go back in?
What kinds of adjectives were you able to delete?


Read what you’ve written with your writing partners and discuss the kinds of adjectives you each found essential and why, as well as what kinds of adjectives proved themselves unnecessary.

Writers Need to Read

It is true. The best tools writers have for educating themselves in the craft of writing are the writing of others.

This week I was wowed by an article by Cornelius Plantinga Jr. on Books and Culture , entitled,  “Tuning the Preacher’s Ear: How good reading helps preaching.” Plantinga argues that reading fine authors and listening to great speakers “will tune the preacher’s ear for language, which is his first tool” Ours too! As Plantinga went on to outline the many ways reading is of benefit to a preacher, I was struck by just how applicable his arguments were for writers as well.

Plantinga states:

“From the masters of language the preacher can learn conciseness, rhythm, euphony, and rhetorical devices such as consonance. He can learn to change up his sentence length and sentence functions.”

“From fine writers the preacher can learn one skill that lies beneath all the others. I mean diction.”

Planginga’s definition of diction includes not only pronunciation, but also word choice and, he states, “from the masters of it blessings flow.”

Plantinga details the two advantages of good diction:

“it lets the preacher choose his rhetorical register, whether highbrow or lowbrow; and…gives our preacher a whole world of power and beauty opened up by the evocativeness of the words he chooses.”

From reading and listening to high quality material, Plantinga concludes, the preacher, and the writer, I might add, can absorb “excellent language, even if unconsciously. He’s like an articulate child from a family of articulate speakers.” May we train our minds and ears, and our students’, so we can write like that.