Have you ever heard the terms “Sustained Silent Reading” or “Free Voluntary Reading”? They are both contributions of Dr. Stephen Krashen, author of The Power of Reading, whose extensive studies into language learning for English as a Second Language (ESL) students caused him to draw the conclusion that “Free voluntary reading is the source of most of our vocabulary, our ability to handle complex grammatical construction, our ability to spell well, to write with a good style—much of our knowledge of the world comes from READING.” He discovered that “Students who did sustained silent reading on a daily basis did better on grammar tests than students who took grammar classes.”
The other quote about reading that I love comes from Margaret A. Edwards, regarded by most librarians as the first teen librarian. She said,
So today, set aside some time. Make a cup of tea (and maybe furnish yourself with a cookie or two), sit in a nice comfy chair, and enjoy reading for however long you can spare from your busy day! What’s better than sinking yourself into STORY for an hour?
In my view, books should be brought to the doorstep like electricity, or like milk in England: They should be considered utilities, and their cost should be appropriately minimal. Barring that, poetry could be sold in drugstores (not least because it might reduce the bill from your shrink). At the very least, an anthology of American literature should be found in the drawer of every room in every motel in the land, next to the Bible, which will surely not object to this proximity, since it does not object to the proximity of the phone book.
—Joseph Brodsky, “An Immodest Proposal”
Margaret A. Edwards (nicknamed Alex by her friends) is considered the very first teen librarian, and her purview was the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore for about 30 years, beginning in 1932. In her time, she trained innumerable young adult librarians by making them read 200 novels and report back on them to her, 10 books at a time, in preparation for talking to teens about them. She book-talked in the public schools (unheard of in the 1930s), and rented a horse and wagon to bring books to neighborhoods that didn’t make regular use of “her” library. Edwards’ love of reading, and conviction that only through literature would young adults move beyond themselves into a larger world, became the hallmark of her professional life. Here is one of my favorite quotes from her, about the value of fiction, which in her time was disputed as not nearly so important as “informational” reading:
“Certainly we get essential information from factual books, but it is experience we need most.
If we would live richly, we can expand our lives more by sailing down the Nile with Cleopatra, looking at the cherry trees with Housman, or sweating it out to triumph at long last with Moss Hart than we can by gathering all available information on Egypt, raising cherries, or writing for the theater.”