Defying Reading Statistics!

Yesterday’s Breakpoint Commentary entitled “Be a Bookworm, Not a Goldfish: The Lost Art of Reading a Book” cited new findings from a Pew Research Center study that over 25% of Americans, and a whopping 1 in 3 American men, did not read a book in the past year. The article’s title is a reference to the now-common shockstistic (a word I just made up) that the human attention span is now shorter than that of a goldfish. There’s debate about how true it is that we can no longer sustain thought for 8 seconds at a time, but the bigger point is that reading good books* can help us fight against the effects of our 21st century instant culture on our brains, and more importantly our minds and souls.

Author Eric Metaxas references professor Allan Bloom, author of The Closing of the American Mind:

The failure to read good books both enfeebles the vision and strengthens our most fatal tendency—the belief that the here and now is all there is.

In terms of actual reading of text, Americans have never read more than they do today, with innumerable text messages, emails, tweets, posts, news feeds, and other updates. As Christians, how much more important is it for us to learn how to engage our minds and enter into dialogue with an author about sustained arguments, ideas, or imagined worlds and characters so that we can become more reasonable, thoughtful, attentive students of the Word, and equipped to fight against all that is in the world that that tells us “that the here and now is all there is”!

While Metaxas brings up ideas and arguments that are familiar to us, especially if you’ve been in one of the “Effects of Living in the Internet Age” or “Technology and the Brain” type of workshops we have had, I appreciated reading this commentary and recommitting myself to defying the norm, and fighting for my mind and for my soul!

And as the Gracepoint “book lady,” I’m so happy that we at Gracepoint Berkeley church, as well as our other church plants, are doing what we can to defy these statistics together! It warms my heart when I receive emails from people who say they’ve read more in the last year than they did in all of undergrad. Sadly, just STARTING the Winter Reading Challenge will put you ahead of a good chunk of Americans. Not only are we refusing to be goldfish by being bookworms, I think many of us are on the way to being book dragons. 🙂

How many books did you read in 2016? Remember, more important than the number of books, is growing as a reader! Did you read more than you did in 2015?


* You can check out Breakpoint’s Recommended Reading List. It has lots of books that we carry at the store. 🙂

Becoming a Reader Through Reading

Another question commonly asked of me by parents at Gracepoint Berkeley church is, “How do you become a reader?” And like many questions, the answer seems a bit too pat. Can you guess what it is? I most often say, “You become a reader…through reading.” (For those of you who figured it out from the title of the post —  good test-taking skills!)

Of course there’s so much to the answer, but like other identities we grow into, it’s all in the doing. Today, I want to focus on the social aspect of reading. We often conceive of reading as a solitary activity, and while it most definitely is, from the earliest age we see that reading is very much social as well. Perhaps it is actually reading together, being read to, reading to someone else, or just talking about books. There’s a reason crazy fandoms develop around books!

While I could write on and on about this, I received this photo from our young readers at Gracepoint Minneapolis church, and yes, I do think it’s worth about a thousand words. 🙂

Sammy reading to Stephen and Teddy!

Sammy, who is an early reader, exemplifies the social nature of reading. He memorized the great board book classic Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?. So he happily and confidently read the book to his younger friends. Not only is he introducing the younger ones to books, but he is building into his growing identity as a reader. A win-win!

2016 Reading Resolutions & Reading Challenge!

You probably saw this one coming. I know we’re almost to the end of January, but 2016 still feels new, and the beginning of the year often means resolutions and goal-setting. “Read more” is often on people’s list of resolutions. In fact it was in the top 10 resolutions of 2015, according to the Nielsen Report.

Whether you’ve set some concrete reading goals (I’m trying to read 365 books this year — I’m on book 28, but then again, I read a lot of children’s books!), or you’re part of the generally “read more” group, I invite you to participate in the official unofficial 2016 Bibliopolis Reading Challenge.

  1. Read a Christian biography or autobiography. As you know, Nikki from Gracepoint San Diego recommends the Watchman Nee biography.
  2. Read, or reread, one of the C.S. Lewis FiveMere Christianity, Miracles, The Problem of Pain, The Abolition of Man, The Screwtape Letters.
  3. Read a Christian “series,” or basically 3 (or more) books by the same author. Whether it is Lee Strobel’s The Case for… books, Helen Rosevere’s Living… books. You can create your own series. 🙂
  4. Read a book that has been on your TBR (To Be Read) list for a long time. For me, that’s The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I’m completely serious when I say that it has been on my TBR since 1995. I think 20 years is long enough.
  5. Read a work of non-fiction that isn’t a memoir or (auto)biography.
  6. Read a book about a historical event or era.
  7. Read a book about or set in a different part of the world. Expand your horizons!
  8. Read one of the books that you were supposed to read in high school, but you fake read. Or if you were a dutiful student who read all of the books you were assigned, you can choose one of the “classic books” that other people seem to have read but your teachers never assigned. For me, that’s Homer’s The Odyssey. (I think it was because Homer was still writing it when I was in high school.)
  9. Read a children’s book you never read. It could be a recent one, or one from long ago. For me, that’s Where the Red Fern Grows. I know you’re thinking, “No, that’s actually impossible, because everyone’s read it.” But I’m not kidding.
  10. Read a book of poetry. Anthologies are good, if you don’t know where to start.

That’s 12 books, so you could break it down to an average of a book a month. If that’s too easy, then just double each of the categories. 🙂

Let the reading challenge begin, and let’s all celebrate having “read more” come December 31, 2016! Reading challenges are always fun to do together, so maybe you and your peers, life group, or housemates can participate together. Are you in? 🙂

Books as Gifts: Easier Said Than Done

The most popular question I get from people at Gracepoint Berkeley church, and our church plants, is about a recommended reading list. And even more so, since it is Christmas time, and people are trying to buy gifts for nieces, nephews, cousins, and other friends and relatives.

But are you surprised by the title of my post? The reason is because it’s really hard to know if the person 1) already has the book, or 2) will like the book! So this requires you to know the person’s reading tastes and history fairly well. In fact, I have gotten several book donations to Bibliopolis from patrons who received books they already had as gifts from relatives, as well as books they received that they didn’t like.

Another thing to consider is that other people might get the same book for your friend/relative. How many of you received several copies of The Return of the Prodigal Son for your baptism? 🙂 An amazing book, but you end up with multiple copies that you feel like you can’t give away, because people have written personal notes at the front of the book!

So if you are positive person X wants a certain book because it’s on their wish list, or her mom told you, then go for it! If you’re not sure what to get for person X, but you know they don’t read all that much, so you’re pretty sure anything you buy will be new to them, then maybe you’ll find my recommended reading list as a useful starting point. I’d been working on a list, but realized it’s never going to be “ready” or finished. It is going to be forever in progress, so I decided to just share what I have so far. I invite you to help me add to it as well.

If you’re not sure what to get your person X who is an avid reader, or who has very particular reading tastes, then I really do think a gift card to a local book store, or online book seller is ok! Of course with a card from the big-A, you can’t prevent person X from buying toys or a juicer, but one can hope!


Do you buy books for people? Do you have go-to books you gift? Any favorite books you received? Or stories about bad book gifts? 🙂

Books & Babysitting Part 4: Reading is a Social Activity

We often think of reading as a solitary activity. And in some ways it is. But even when reading alone, reading is first and foremost a conversation. It is a conversation between the reader and the author. This often sparks an inner-dialogue within the reader. And more often than not, this leads to a dialogue with another person. The urge to share the experience with another person is almost inevitable. Whether it is talking about the book, or actually reading the book together.

One thing I have noticed in this first semester of Bibliopolis, where I’ve been interacting with readers of all ages, is that an almost universal component of the reading identity is wanting to read to and with other people. Time and again, I get surprised by the kids who initiate reading to others. It’s not just the “best” readers, as we might suspect. And I think it’s a powerful part of the process of growing as a reader. Sometimes you read to someone younger, who you’re only a couple of steps ahead of in life and in reading-life, or sometimes it is something like, “Hey, listen to this!” to your peers. When I was teaching high school, I observed this happening time and again during lunch time, even between a couple of senior girls who would read parts of their favorite books to/with each other (I promise, they were very mature, well-adjusted, and intelligent students!)

All this to cue today’s reading snapshot, a picture of Ashley from Gracepoint Berkeley church, who is in kindergarten, reading to the younger kiddos (and Auntie Kim) during babysitting.

I just hope that she’s going to show the pictures! Or else she’s going to experience Camp Kennaisee 🙂


Reading Role Models: Mrs. Kim edition

Last week, like many of you, I visited my family for Thanksgiving. While playing our go-to game Qwirkle cubes,* Mrs. Kim (aka my mom) asked me, “Have you heard of a book called The Book Thief?” I almost fell out of my chair in disbelief, and my mom didn’t know what was so odd about her question. I exclaimed, “Have I heard of it?!? It’s my favorite book in the whole world!!!” She said the Korean translation was split into two volumes, and that she enjoyed volume 1 immensely, but was interested in reading it in original English, because she could imagine the writing would be beautiful.

The_Book_Theif_t250Instead of a review of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, for which I would need considerable time to do the book justice, this post is about how my mom was instrumental in me becoming the book nerd that I am. But quickly, anyone who is 7th grade and above who is looking for a CYL (“change your life”) kind of book should read this one if you haven’t yet! The audiobook is amazing as well.

Back to my homage to my first reading role model…I have many fond memories of going to the Cerritos and then later the San Leandro library with her. She taught me how to use a library by taking me along with her to peruse shelves, use a card catalog (remember those?!), sit in comfy library chairs, and use a book drop. Going to the library with her wasn’t drudgery but a treat I looked forward to. When I was old enough, she would let me roam the kids’ section on my own and she would go find her books, and we would leave happily with our next two weeks’ worth of reading! (With the distance of years, all of my memories are positive, but there were plenty of times I got in major trouble for overdue fines, too!)

Looking back now, I realize the memorable reading experiences with my mom continued even as I got older. Some of the memorable conversations we had about life, about human nature, about people, happened around talking about literature I was reading at school. I remember being amazed at how many of the “classics” my mom had read, first in Korean, and then in English. When I was in 11th grade, we talked about The Grapes of Wrath, and she helped me to grasp the deeper meaning of the ending that confused me in my teenaged immaturity.  We discovered The Joy Luck Club together (yep, we bought it at Costco!), taking turns reading about Chinese-immigrant moms and their Chinese-American daughters and crying buckets of tears in empathy. I also remember how she decided to read the unabridged Les Miserables, but at about 800 pages in, she wasn’t enjoying it so much anymore, but she felt like quitting was wimpy and really not an option, so she pushed through to the end. That’s the vintage indomitable Korean-mom spirit!

When I think about it, I don’t know if my mom was conscious of the impact she was having on me as a reader. She didn’t do anything special or intentional — she just let me in to her reading life. We continue to share titles with each other, and so I’m super excited that my mom is going to soon be reading one of my favorite books in the world. I look forward to talking with her about it.  

Mrs. Kim with part 1 of the Korean translation of the BBE (Best Book Ever) — The Book Thief. As a reader of the blog, she obliged me by posing for the first picture with a non-English book. Thanks, Mom! (Not just for the picture, either.) 🙂

Who are some of your reading role models?

*I’m not being paid to endorse this game, but it really is the best!


Reading Testimonial: My Mom Read My Book!

love aubrey coverDuring my time with the Tigers (4th-5th girls), we were talking about Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur. It is a middle grade book in the realistic fiction genre, and it really tugs at your heart. Aubrey is 11 years old, and living on her own. I’m not going to tell you much more than that! Though given that “What are SpaghettiOs?” was the most frequently asked question of the girls who have checked out the book, I’ll help you out with that link. 🙂

I think that all, or almost all of the 4th-8th grade girls have torn through this book. It is on our Favorites shelf, though it never stays long before someone else checks it out. It turns out that they’re not the only ones getting into the book. Here’s a true story from one reader. We’re leaving it anonymous to protect the identity of the mom. But if you read closely, you can pick up the not-so-anonymous clues*.

I was reading the book, and started explaining it to my mom. And I said, “Mommy, doesn’t that sound sad?” Then she said, “Here, let me read a little.” So she started reading. And she kept reading it.

When I asked for it back, my mom looked up, and she was crying. I said, “Haha, you’re crying!!!” Because I’ve never seen her cry like that**. And she said, “It’s sooooo sad. Taylor, go get me a tissue.” And then I said, “Mommy, give the book back.” And she said, “OK, fine,” but I could kind of tell she wanted to keep reading it!

Then later, again she asked, “Can I read it?” and she kind of took it from me. And then started reading it. We went back and forth, taking turns reading it for a while. But then later she said, “Go brush your teeth, and then I’ll give it back.” I didn’t want to, but she kind of said she wouldn’t give it back if I didn’t go brush my teeth!

2015-11-05 16.27.35
Mr. Sketch has started a trend of using IKEA pillows to remain anonymous!
 After she told us this story, the rest of the girls started in with their stories of, “ME TOO!” with their moms and various books. And that led to other related stories. It reminded me of Sara getting Jonathan to check-out Gregor the Overlander for her. It was pretty awesome and heart-warming to hear the girls tripping over one other to tell stories about times spent with their parents, siblings, and friends around shared books. This story and others like it show how reading is as social and community-building an activity as it is a solitary one. Let’s continue to create positive reading memories with those the closest to us!

Are there books that you loved reading together and talking about with your family and friends? Have you ever had to battle your parents for one of your books that they started reading? If so, who won? 🙂

*It may appear that a disproportionate number of posts are starting to feature my friends, but it’s entirely coincidental. I’m just a (wannabe) beat writer, reporting the good reading stories as they come, you know?

**I did confirm this fact with the mom in question. When I asked her how she liked Love, Aubrey, she responded, “It’s such a tear-jerker.”