Our Ninth Nerdversary: Social Readers in Pandemic Times by Donalyn Miller
Self-isolating and working from home for the past eight months, my reading life has been challenging to maintain. It takes more effort to settle into a book and stick with it. The six half-finished books sitting on my coffee table ooze judgement. Reading seems self-indulgent and I cannot sit still for long before I feel the need to DO SOMETHING. A significant part of my 2020 reading life has been doom scrolling Twitter for breaking news updates; researching for teaching and writing projects; and googling recipes that will combine the remnants of our pantry into something edible. Reading as a means to an end, but I have not read as much for pleasure and escape. It is what it is.
Talking with many of you online this year, I’m not alone. While some friends and colleagues are reading more than ever, others have lost reading momentum, cannot concentrate on a book, or find reading less interesting and enjoyable for a list of reasons. Distracted and worried about the medical, financial, and social consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic affecting our communities and families, reading for personal enjoyment may have fallen down (or off) our list of priorities. We have people to help and problems to solve! Exhausted by life in 2020, we may not have cognitive or emotional energy reserves for reading.
As a self-reflective reader and someone who studies other readers’ behaviors and interests, I recognize that our reading lives wax and wane. Readers wander away from reading, and find ourselves back to it again—tethered by some memory of past enjoyment or benefit. Our reading interests and reading’s importance in our lives evolves and changes. Talking with readers of all ages this year (albeit through screens), some common areas of discussion have included:
What conditions keep our reading lives satisfying and joyful?
How can readers maintain and sustain our reading habits in spite of setbacks and obstacles?
What are we learning about ourselves as readers?
And for educators and caregivers mentoring young readers:
How can we use what we have learned to inform our interactions with young readers going forward?
The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the conditions many young readers already experienced, including: demands on cognitive energy and increased screen time; inconsistent or missing access to engaging and relevant books or the technology necessary to access them; limited or controlled reading choices; or a lack of supportive reader-to-reader relationships. Readers in your community may face additional time, access, choice, or relationship challenges. For many readers of all ages, the COVID-19 pandemic has created the most significant setback in our reading lives to-date.
I have tried a few strategies and behaviors for sustaining my reading life this year such as setting aside a consistent time to read most days, listening to audiobooks when I cannot sit still and focus, and expanding my reading experiences by reading outside of my preferred genres and topics. All have helped keep my reading life going, but more than anything else, seeking connections with other readers has kept my reading life joyful and moving.
While there are plenty of readers who will engage in book discussions and offer recommendations when solicited, some rarely seek social interactions with other readers because they don’t feel the need. Any larger group of readers likely includes some social readers, though, who crave interactions with others and find their reading lives more enjoyable when they can share it. Even when people aren’t interested in deeper conversations about books and reading, they may desire social interactions and reading provides a starting point for relationship-building in other ways.
A small group of five friends started a virtual book club in May and we have been reading and discussing books all year. There have been weeks when our looming book club meeting has motivated me to finish the book—not because of any shame or embarrassment because I didn’t read—everyone in the group has attended meetings when they didn’t complete a particular book. I read the books because I want to talk about them with my friends. It’s that simple. I look forward to our robust, thought-provoking, often meandering conversations about our families, teaching during the pandemic, politics, and books. My understanding and appreciation for the books we’ve read grows right along with my understanding and appreciation for my smart, sweet friends.
Perhaps, you do not have the time or resources for a regular book club right now. Ask a few friends to join you once a month for a Zoom book chat to swap recommendations and catch up. Social media also provides abundant opportunities to connect with other readers. Twitter chats and tweet threads, Instagram and Facebook stories and posts, Tik Tok videos—all offer a continuous stream of book recommendations, resources, and readers to meet. Follow hashtags like #MGbookchat, #weneeddiversebooks, and other book-related discussions and movements about children’s and young adult literature. Expand your feed to include more voices and experiences, including folks outside of education and publishing. I have added a lot of scientists, public policy experts, state and local politicians, and journalists to my Twitter feed this year, and they often lead me to articles, poems, videos, conversations, and books I might not have discovered otherwise. Sometimes, the communities we find online extend far beyond the screen and shape our lives in ways we cannot foresee.
That’s how Nerdy Book Club began…
In 2011, after months of sharing and discussing children’s and young adult literature on Twitter with hundreds of folks using the #nerdybookclub hashtag, Colby Sharp and I launched this blog on December 1, 2011. Considering the books our students loved to read that rarely won “literary” awards and the importance of celebrating all readers and reading, we decided to start a people’s choice award of sorts, affectionately called the Nerdies, and invited educators, caregivers, and kids to nominate their favorite books of the year. Giving folks several weeks to nominate books for the inaugural awards, we invited friends and colleagues to write posts for the new blog. Less than six weeks later, the ballots had been counted, the “winners” were announced, and the blog had thousands of subscribers.
For almost a decade, this blog has featured thousands of teachers, librarians, administrators, college professors, authors, illustrators, publishers, booksellers, editors, school and community volunteers, caregivers, and kids. It seems a lot of folks were looking for a place where they could share ideas for engaging young readers and celebrating children’s and young adult literature. For many of our posters, Nerdy Book Club has been the first place they have shared their writing in public—a writing community, as well as a reading one. Thank you all for contributing your voices and thoughts on this blog and sharing posts with others all these years.
The social connections readers can forge online have driven this blog for the past nine years and will continue to evolve in response to our readers’ needs. I will open nominations for this year’s Nerdy Book Club awards on December 6th, and announcements of this year’s most recommended 2020 children’s and young adult literature titles will begin in daily posts starting December 26th. As we move into 2020, we will continue to solicit and consider feedback from our readers about how to keep Nerdy relevant and useful to all of you. If you have suggestions or ideas for content topics, activities, or events, please email us at email@example.com or leave a comment on this post. If you are interested in writing a post in the months ahead, please read our guidelines and post descriptions and sign up!
Happy Ninth Anniversary to the Nerdy Book Club! I am grateful for the connections and learning this community has provided over the years. The closing of my first post on December 2, 2011 still rings true, “Welcome to the Nerdy Book Club. I was waiting for you. I know that you were waiting for me, too.” Although we have always joked that the only membership requirement for this “club” is that you enjoy reading, 2020 has reminded me that a supportive reading community accepts you even when you’re not reading much at all. I look forward to the twists and turns my reading life will take in the year ahead and the interesting readers and stories I will meet along the way.
Donalyn Miller has taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grade English and Social Studies in Northeast Texas. She is the author or co-author of several books about encouraging students to read and creating successful reading communities at school and home including, The Book Whisperer (Jossey-Bass, 2009), Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013), and Game Changer! Book Access for All Kids (Scholastic, 2018). Donalyn hosts the annual summer and holiday reading initiative, #bookaday. You can find her on Twitter @donalynbooks or Instagram @donalynm.