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The Book Tower
June 4, 2010 12:38 AM   Subscribe

Book owners have smarter kids
posted by Artw (114 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yes! The world needs more bibliophibians.
posted by Some1 at 12:45 AM on June 4, 2010 [22 favorites]


I always find houses with no books vaguely chilling - always did as a kid as well. I try to resist the urge to check out every bookshelf upon entering a room a little better than I did back then though.
posted by Artw at 12:50 AM on June 4, 2010 [21 favorites]


Heh -- I have that bibliophibian strip hanging on my wall.

My son, who is turning three months old this week, loves staring at our bookshelves. I mean, LOVES it. They calm him down no matter how upset he is. (He also loves staring at our boardgame collection, which is pretty cool.) You should have seen his face the first time I pulled a book out of the shelf and let him touch it.
posted by showmethecalvino at 12:54 AM on June 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


I absolutely adore books, and shelves thereof. I'm on two sides about it though. One, in Japan, an English massmarket paperback goes for about $15, and personally, I've always liked trades ($25 and up). I'd love to have more books, and I usually try to bring some of what I have in storage back with me every time I visit home.

On the other hand, when my father passed away last year, we had to deal with, literally, thousands and thousands of books, including over 30 boxes (of the ream of paper variety) tucked into a closet. Because he'd been a heavy smoker, the books reeked, and the covers were sticky with soot. Libraries wouldn't take them, and we ended up almost giving them away to a used bookstore, after snagging the books that had sentimental value (most of which, due to the whole airline weight limit nonsense, are still in Chicago). God, I love books, my whole family does, but for fuck's sake, folks, take care of them.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:03 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I received a sack of paperbacks, mostly first editions due to the era in which they'd been purchased (late 50s through to the early 70s) of science fiction from the wife of a family friend after he passed away. It was a bequest to me because more than a decade previously I'd gone to visit them in Hong Kong and never left the house long enough to even see Macau because I'd found the collection. Some have those black sticky dots that collect over time, some are musty, fusty and some might just be plain rotten. They may infect the rest of my collection but I try to keep it up in a steel cupboard whenever I get out to our default address where they are stored right now.

I couldn't imagine life without them.

Even now, trying to live out of a suitcase or two, knowing I have to move again in a few weeks, my books, like rabbits, have multiplied spontaneously.

And I can definitely attest to having a mother who liked reading as making the difference.
posted by infini at 1:14 AM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Ye gods, I don't want to be the first to mention the two c words....

So, uh, if we simply issue books to all households, everyone goes to college?
posted by codswallop at 1:25 AM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


From Freakonomics:

As noted earlier, a child with many books in his home has indeed been found to do well on school tests. But regularly reading to a child doesn’t affect test scores.

This would seem to present a riddle. It bounces us back to our original question: just how much, and in what ways, do parents really matter?

Let’s start with the positive correlation: books in the home equal higher test scores. Most people would look at this correlation and infer an obvious cause-and-effect relationship. To wit: a little boy named Isaiah has a lot of books at home; Isaiah does beautifully on his reading test at school; this must be because his mother or father regularly reads to him. But Isaiah’s friend Emily, who also has a lot of books in her home, practically never touches them. She would rather
dress up her Bratz or watch cartoons. And Emily tests just as well as Isaiah. Meanwhile, Isaiah and Emily’s friend Ricky doesn’t have any books at home. But Ricky goes to the library every day with his mother; Ricky is a reading fiend. And yet he does worse on his school tests than either Emily or Isaiah.

What are we to make of this? If reading books doesn’t have an impact on early childhood test scores, could it be that the books’ mere physical presence in the house makes the children smarter? Do books perform some kind of magical osmosis on a child’s brain? If so, one might be tempted to simply deliver a truckload of books to every home that contains a preschooler.

That, in fact, is what the governor of Illinois tried to do. In early 2004, Governor Rod Blagojevich announced a plan to mail one book a month to every child in Illinois from the time they were born until they entered kindergarten. The plan would cost $26 million a year. But, Blagojevich argued, this was a vital intervention in a state where 40 percent of third graders read below their grade level. “When you own [books] and they’re yours,” he said, “and they just come as part of your life, all of that will contribute to a sense... that books should be part of your life.”

So all children born in Illinois would end up with a sixty-volume library by the time they entered school. Does this mean they would all perform better on their reading tests?

Probably not. (Although we may never know for sure: in the end, the Illinois legislature rejected the book plan.) After all, the ECLS data don’t say that books in the house cause high test scores; it says only that the two are correlated.

How should this correlation be interpreted? Here’s a likely theory: most parents who buy a lot of children’s books tend to be smart and well educated to begin with. (And they pass on their smarts and work ethic to their kids.) Or perhaps they care a great deal about education, and about their children in general. (Which means they create an environment that encourages and rewards learning.) Such parents may believe—as fervently as the governor of Illinois believed - that every children’s book is a talisman that leads to unfettered intelligence. But they are probably wrong. A book is in fact less a cause of intelligence than an indicator.

posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:27 AM on June 4, 2010 [18 favorites]


The author was kind enough to clarify early in the article, "A study recently published... found that just having books around the house (the more, the better) is correlated with how many years of schooling a child will complete."

I think that if the following passes review it will prove more conclusive though:
According to USA Today, another study, to be published later this year in the journal Reading Psychology, found that simply giving low-income children 12 books (of their own choosing) on the first day of summer vacation "may be as effective as summer school" in preventing "summer slide" -- the degree to which lower-income students slip behind their more affluent peers academically every year.
I hope similar experiments are being conducted regarding computers as well.

On other peoples children.
posted by vapidave at 1:31 AM on June 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


I try to resist the urge to check out every bookshelf upon entering a room a little better than I did back then though.

I check, and I judge. Sorry!
posted by turgid dahlia at 1:40 AM on June 4, 2010 [11 favorites]


that's natural. I'm so shameless, I usually plan what's left outside whenever I know I'll have guests in my home checking those books out ;p
posted by infini at 1:45 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


/derail but there was this guy whose whole wall was a bookshelf full of yummy books till I got close enough to see that they were just frivolous froth, o dear how sad
posted by infini at 1:47 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


My son is two weeks old today. I have an English degree, my wife has a B.Sc. After years of moving around the country, lugging around our libraries, we finally saw the futility in lugging books WE HAD ALREADY READ from town to town. We settled down in a very small house. Our books are in storage. Come into my house and you'll see maybe three books in the living room. Whatever we're currently reading from the library. I'd love to have a nice bookshelf - floor to ceiling - because books make great wallpaper. Right now there's no room. I intend to buy lots of children's books for my son. We already have quite a few. I intend to read to him every night before bed, like my parents did to me. But I'm not convinced that having novels and textbooks we no longer look at will somehow magically make him smarter than average. If he is smarter than average (and he will be) it will be because we read to him and give him a stable, loving environment. This article is confusing correlation (see Malcom Gladwell above).

Then again, my books are in storage so technically I'm still a "book owner." And I'd agree that giving books to low income kids (Heck, all kids) is a great idea. Even better is if the parents read to them. This is not a rant against books. It's a rant against clutter and vanity of putting Melville and Joyce on your wall when you've never actually read them.
posted by Brodiggitty at 2:23 AM on June 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


What about ebooks? I'm amassing a sizeable yet intangible collection that my hypothetical kids won't be able to paw through, but is theoretically more portable than ever. Might have to do something like this: http://booktwo.org/notebook/bookcubes/ (which bonus: looks like play cubes; but minus: dont actually have content.)
posted by popsciolist at 2:25 AM on June 4, 2010


i prefer the explanation that parents who are curious about the world, intelligent, literate and widely read, being exposed constantly to new ideas are what makes kids smart. the books just happen to be lying around. and no, one never invests in a book one won't want to read more than once or lend to someone.
posted by infini at 2:44 AM on June 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


On reading to children: my brothers kids could barely read, because up until high school, he would actually read their textbooks to them. If it wasn't for the internet, I don't think they would have ever learned to read adequately, but they got sucked in by web sites with Playstation cheat codes, and within a couple of years were reading better than age level.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 2:55 AM on June 4, 2010


My daughter owns a hundred-odd books. At three. The first thing she wanted to buy with her pocket money was a book (the Nickle-Nackle Tree, if you're interested). The second was a book (Down the Back of the Chair).

This sets her up well to catch up on her parents, since she only needs to amass a couple of thousand more to match one of us. (We do not have a joint library; our relationship has survived any number of tests, but I do not believe it would survive an attempt to jointly manage my sensibly-ordered collection, fiction sorted by author, chronology, position in series, with my wife's obviously batshitinsane organisation.)

I do wonder about ebooks, too - specifically, I wonder if making reading contingent on generally more expensive, more fragile, harder-to-replace-and-operate devices is goign to be a major hit for kids coming to grips with reading.

Also, there are no pop-up Kindles.
posted by rodgerd at 3:01 AM on June 4, 2010


I'm taking no chances: must marry a sexy librarian.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:03 AM on June 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


I invest in books I'll probably only want to read once because I want to encourage more books I'll probably want to read to be published.
posted by robertc at 3:08 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


My parents had hundreds of books, and look how well I turned out.

All of their books were Reader's Digest condensed books.
posted by maxwelton at 3:49 AM on June 4, 2010


infini: "i prefer the explanation that parents who are curious about the world, intelligent, literate and widely read, being exposed constantly to new ideas are what makes kids smart. the books just happen to be lying around. and no, one never invests in a book one won't want to read more than once or lend to someone.

I'm no towering intellect or anything, but one thing I am is well-read. My parents, god love 'em, are not. They are not intellectual, curious, literate, or interested in new ideas. They had a few books around the house, like my dad's old Armstong Sperry or some Sidney Sheldon crap. I'd visit my grandmother and she'd have some Michener or James Clavell, at least. I'm not sure how I got into reading so much, but I really did; and it was absolutely, positively the best thing that could have happened to me as a kid. I can only hope that any child can find the same joy in reading. Making books available may be the most important step, but I'm not sure how you give kids that initial realization that books open the world to you.
posted by Red Loop at 4:05 AM on June 4, 2010


So, have they figured out if confusing correlation and causation hereditary yet?
posted by delmoi at 4:12 AM on June 4, 2010 [9 favorites]


As noted earlier, a child with many books in his home has indeed been found to do well on school tests. But regularly reading to a child doesn’t affect test scores.

This would seem to present a riddle. It bounces us back to our original question: just how much, and in what ways, do parents really matter?


Headline: ONLY THINGS THAT AFFECT TEST SCORES MATTER
posted by DU at 4:30 AM on June 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Kindle owners have thinner kids who take up less space.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:45 AM on June 4, 2010 [16 favorites]


Jesus, will you nerds listen to yourselves? "I love booksy-wooksy!" - "I love them more!!" - "I once kissed a book!!!" - "Last night I dreamed that I had sex with a book!!!!"

Every time a conversation here turns to education you people all try to outmasturbate one-another over who loves books more. It's pathetic. Where is your critical thinking? If books were so great, how come BATMAN is a comic strip? Because books are STUPID, you idiots - that's why.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 4:49 AM on June 4, 2010 [72 favorites]


dyslexic since age 4 were you?
posted by infini at 5:02 AM on June 4, 2010


"Dreamed"?
posted by kyrademon at 5:07 AM on June 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


I try to resist the urge to check out every bookshelf upon entering a room a little better than I did back then though.

Hmm. Remember that scene in Jarmusch's Dead Man where Robert Mitchum walks into an office where the three gunfighters are seated, and delivers a speech while surveying an enormous stuffed grizzly bear in the corner the entire time? That's like me when I walk into a room, except the grizzly is a bookshelf and the three gunfighters are assorted bemused people mouthing "oh, how sad!" to each other behind my back.
posted by Ritchie at 5:16 AM on June 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Rebuttal to the quidnunc kid
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:17 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


A love of reading - and its cousin, critical thinking - are the most important gifts you can give your children.

I've had a pet theory for thirty+ years that has worked for my son and has made believers out of more than a few of my friends with kids: read, read, read to your kids from day one. Make a ritual of spending at least a few minutes reading every day, even before they understand what's happening.

This ingrains the idea that books are important; that there are whole worlds between those covers. Start early and you not only give your kids a jump in school, but you teach them that they can be independent when it comes to information.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:19 AM on June 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


The study didn't say that the kids were smarter. It said: "A study recently published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility found that just having books around the house (the more, the better) is correlated with how many years of schooling a child will complete."

So, isn't this really saying that kids that grow up in a book-y environment are more likely to buy into the educational system?

Anyways, my brother is a high-school dropout who has spent some time in jail. I studied astrophysics at Harvard. We grew up in the same household with the same parents. We're both close to our parents.

To my mind, this would seem to suggest that there are other external factors at work here that completely overwhelm everything else. And yet my mother constantly gets asked "How did you raise two such different kids?"
posted by vacapinta at 5:24 AM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


We're hoping to keep our kid kinda dumb so we can win arguments more easily when she's a teenager.

People need to think a little harder about the future.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:24 AM on June 4, 2010 [23 favorites]


If books were so great, how come BATMAN is a comic strip?

I'm failing to see either the correlation or the causation here.

/you can pry my copy of "The Dark Knight Returns" from my cold, dead hands bookshelf
posted by namewithoutwords at 5:25 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Look, what you morons fail to realise is that one day a giant fire-breathing BOOK, an abomination fomented by nuclear pollution, will arise from the oceanic depths and wreak terror on all humanity - and then you will come crying to me, and I'll point at your library cards and laugh at your photos.

But maybe Batman will READ to it, to stop it from destroying Tokyo. Ha! ha! God you people are such idiots.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 5:29 AM on June 4, 2010


If this is true then I must be a genius.
posted by amro at 5:34 AM on June 4, 2010


I check, and I judge. Sorry!

I wonder how you would judge my library. The mister and I have a yard and one half of bird books (his hobby). Then there are six yards of science fiction books (mine), and I only keep books that I have read more than once.

There are two yards of romance, (my secret vice), waiting to be traded on Paperbackswap. There are also two yards of assorted bibles, bibles commentary, and other religious books because ten years ago the mister and I decided to seriously study the bible as a "defense against the dark" spoutings of the Fundamentalist part of our extended families.

We have a yard on mental illness, a yard on knitting and various fiber arts, a yard of home improvement books. I'm keeping a yard of my favorite childrens books in the eternal hope that someday I will have grandchildren.

Mostly trash on my shelves, but all my children are college graduates in spite of it.

On previewing, my life story is on my bookshelves.
posted by francesca too at 5:35 AM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


the whole nine yards, eh?
posted by infini at 5:36 AM on June 4, 2010


Anyways, my brother is a high-school dropout who has spent some time in jail. I studied astrophysics at Harvard. We grew up in the same household with the same parents. We're both close to our parents.

My parents, who are both bookish, did everything they did to encourage us to read. Two of us read voraciously from a very early age, while another two only learned to like it in their late teens, and then became voracious readers. The fifth never reads anything. He buys the weekly paper for the sake of the TV Guide and the comics.

If raising kids could be done by rule and the results guaranteed, we'd all be raised in state institutions.
posted by orange swan at 5:49 AM on June 4, 2010


I thought the most interesting part of the article was at the end - the idea that owning a book, having your name written in it, makes you feel like you're part of the club, and therefore entitled to walk into a library or a bookshop or any place with a lot of books.

As with the example given in the article, I would never enter a gun shop unless I had someone experienced with me. I'm slightly uncomfortable in camping shops but willing to poke around, sporting goods stores seem to be full of weird torture devices, car accessories stores bore me but I don't feel intimidated by them. These all reflect the frequency with which I was exposed to these things when I was a kid.

My parents weren't highly educated themselves (mum finished high school, dad left school to work on a farm at age 14), they didn't read to us, but books were always just... around. Some trash, some literature which might have been by accident, some kids encyclopedias. I felt entitled to walk into libraries and bookshops and make requests of the staff, which led to a lifelong love of books. And I still consider libraries and bookshops a comfort zone, even in other countries where I don't speak the language.

If giving poor kids books of their own at least makes them feel comfortable asking for more, or to seek them out when needed, I think that's a great way to spend charity dollars.
posted by harriet vane at 6:00 AM on June 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


This seems to me to fall into the "DUH" school of child development (along with "Don't feed your babies blue kool-aid") but if it gets more parents to buy more books and spend less money on Baby Einstein*, I'm all for it.

My parents had hordes of books when I was a kid and I taught myself to read at 2 1/2. They maintain it's because I was so familiar with books. I maintain it was because they didn't have TV and I was BORED.

I try to resist the urge to check out every bookshelf upon entering a room a little better than I did back then though.

Pffft. I'm totally upfront about this. The first time I visited 'moonMan's apartment (as a friend, not a romantic interest) I asked to see his books so I could judge him. I used those words.


Anyways, my brother is a high-school dropout who has spent some time in jail. I studied astrophysics at Harvard. We grew up in the same household with the same parents. We're both close to our parents.


Yeah hi, my family. Except for the astrophysics. My step-brother was educated in private schools and lived in the same family I did (and honestly, went to BETTER schools than I did) only to start abusing drugs seriously at age 12 and drop out of high school by 16. He got his GED and spent a semester in college... and dropped out, was homeless for a year, and landed in jail due to drugs and their influence on his behavior in the theft and violence departments. Clearly, putting your kids in front of a hundred zillion books isn't going to help if the child has a predisposition towards self-destructive behavior and/or their own interpersonal issues to work out. Also, as mentioned, I learned to read at 2 1/2. My step-brother, with similar upbringing and just as many BOOKS in the house didn't learn to read until age 9. (He was also in a Waldorf school where he could go at "his own pace" or total lack thereof.)

Nothing, especially in child rearing, is 100% foolproof. Nature will always build a better fool.

*Though I do honestly like Baby Einstein from a "Hey, I can put it on and fix lunch without a small person attached to my leg and it doesn't annoy ME." standpoint.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:14 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am being eaten by books. I often try to figure out where to send/donate them. Books of all kinds - old text books, old and new nonfiction, fiction of every shape size variety and author, children's books, YA books. SO MANY BOOKS. I want new books. Where do I send the old books? I loan as many as I can, but who wants the rest? Surely someone somewhere in the world wants lots of free books. Someone please help!
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:15 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was a poor kid whose mom, while not a reader herself, knew that getting me into the library early on was important. In elementary school, I also benefited from the RIF (Reading Is Fundamental) program. Once a month, the Red Cross lady would come to school, lay out the selection of paperbacks, and we would crane our necks to take them all in and decide which one to run to first. And the book was mine to keep! I got to write my name right there on the RIF label inside the cover. (And I still have some of those RIF books.) Sixteen years later, I graduated with my MLIS. And eight years after that, I was a "Jeopardy!" champion. Reading *is* fundamental.

Right now, I can hear my 22-month-old daughter "reading" a book to her twin brother in the playroom. They seem to be off to a good start.
posted by candyland at 6:16 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


If books were so great, how come BATMAN is a comic strip?

That's graphic novel, philistine!
posted by roystgnr at 6:17 AM on June 4, 2010


but who wants the rest? Surely someone somewhere in the world wants lots of free books. Someone please help!


A university in Venezuela is using a novel method to take books into remote communities and encourage people to read. As James Ingham reports, the scheme is proving a great success.

posted by infini at 6:20 AM on June 4, 2010


I'd say, conservatively, that we have seven or eight full bookshelves at home, plus two or three hundred kids books in bins between the living room, and my daughter's room. My son is now 10 months old, and he's read to every day.

So why does my son eat gravel?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 6:54 AM on June 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Books are awesome. We're innundated with books. I get bored and rearrange them. Now they're sorted by color. Folks who come into our house scratch their heads about it. As well they should.

I do actively try to recycle the ones that I don't plan on reading again. We have friends who have an on-line bookstore (Ruth's Books, oddly enough) and we give our castoffs to them to sell. I have moved this collection all over the country and frankly I'm pausing quite a bit about moving them again. A Kindle may be in my future, although with two of us in the house, I don't see how we're going to get around having to buy two of them.

My folks had a huge collection of books. In working for the federal government, the military would ship them all from post to post. When last I visited them, the collection had been boiled down to what would fit into a storage ottoman in the bedroom and on a shelf in the garage. Mom and Dad have bought a Kindle and are quite happy with their decision.

There is something about holding a book in your hands though.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:54 AM on June 4, 2010


A university in Venezuela is using a novel method
I see your biblio burros and raise you one BOOK TANK!
posted by dhruva at 7:02 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I was a tiny illiterate human being, I knew, from my parents, that books were magic.

I remember laboriously copying each letter from a book on a sheet of paper, even though I had no idea what the letters of the alphabet were.

Later, the eight of us all ate dinner together. The only excuse for getting up from the table (except maybe to get more bread) was to go to the big dictionary on its stand in the living room to settle an argument about a word.

Obviously, literacy was valued above almost everything, and all six of us went to grad school. (Back when Daddy could pay for higher education.)

Like others have said upthread, this familial attitude toward the power of books - which we could never dogear or mark in, other than a dedication on the innermost page - was the key, an attitude which would naturally correspond to the number of books in our house (thousands). I mean, who would have a lot of books and not read them?

Now, I'd like to see a study about something less obvious: such as the effect of having a piano in the house on musical intelligence. (See, lots of people have pianos but never use them...not so much with books.)
posted by kozad at 7:06 AM on June 4, 2010


I can't read or write.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:07 AM on June 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


If our union is ever blessed with issue we will build a Borgesian labyrinth for the tot to be reared in. Its au pair will be an attractive but stern MLIS named Meronym--when the child can locate her. If the child survives to majority we look forward to many diverting evenings enjoying slow food and glinting repartee with it. Her or him, I mean.
posted by everichon at 7:14 AM on June 4, 2010 [13 favorites]


The whole books as magic talismans of learning or sophistication or intelligence thing or whatever it is you people have going on is fine I guess if it makes you happy but seems kind of dumb to me. "Look how many televisions I have! It must mean I watch the Wire a bunch!" Whatever. We have a small house and my daughter has a kid-sized bookshelf full of books in her room and one in the den, but we may have 25 adult books on shelves in a closet and two boxes full in the attic we don't have room for in the house proper. I'm not junking up my house just in case having a bunch of paperback Vonneguts collecting dust might make my kid smarter one day. Anyway, every time we drive down Assembly street and she sees the giant class cube my 22 month old starts yelling "Library library!" So even if the lack of books in our house makes her turn out stupid and she has to be homeless she will at least know where to hang out during the day.
posted by ND¢ at 7:16 AM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


What does the study say about a child growing up around hundreds of copies of the same book?
posted by Bromius at 7:21 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


"i prefer the explanation that parents who are curious about the world, intelligent, literate and widely read, being exposed constantly to new ideas are what makes kids smart. the books just happen to be lying around. and no, one never invests in a book one won't want to read more than once or lend to someone."

Exactly, children are intelligent enough to either become like or rebel against the essential nature of who you are, not what you think you are or what you try to do. This is why book ownership has such a large effect on SAT reading scores, positive life outcomes and educational achievement while reading to your child is statistically insignificant.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:25 AM on June 4, 2010


"Look how many televisions I have! It must mean I watch the Wire a bunch!"

I'm pretty sure that's not how books work.

I was never taught that books are magic or anything, but because my mom has some hoarder-y tendencies and loves books, I basically grew up in a library. It was great, and being bored as a kid in the middle of desolate suburbia meant that I could always find a new book to read without going through the hassle of finding a parent to drive me a couple of miles to the nearest library. There were lots of novels and poetry collections, but also a lot of specialized encyclopedias, science books, etc. And since they were all adult (I don't mean porny, just not dumbed-down) books, I ended up with a sick vocabulary before my peers in elementary school. It was like the internet before the internet, scattered all over my house.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:30 AM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


So why does my son eat gravel?

BECAUSE IT'S DELICIOUS. OBVS.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:31 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


HURF DURF BETTER READER
posted by escabeche at 7:38 AM on June 4, 2010 [9 favorites]


The whole books as magic talismans of learning or sophistication or intelligence thing or whatever it is you people have going on is fine I guess if it makes you happy but seems kind of dumb to me.

I wouldn't call them talismans, but they can be awesomely powerful. (The argument has been made, and I agree, that the Guttenberg printing press is the most world-changing invention ever designed.) The sooner kids correlate "I want to know more about this..." with "I can find that in a book somewhere..", the sooner they can become self-directed.

Knowing where to find answers can be just as important as already knowing the answer.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:44 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


What does the study say about a child growing up around hundreds of copies of the same book?
posted by Bromius at 7:21 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


The children of authors turn out to be unhappy alcoholics, surviving (barely) for decades on the proceeds from the ghost-written memoirs they publish about their beloved-by-readers but otherwise sociopathic parents.
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:47 AM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


If anyone has access to the study, I'd be interested in knowing if it really is book ownership that matters, as the Slate headline implies, or if being a library regular will do the job just as well. (I don't buy many books but often bump into the 100-item limit on my library card, and I think my kids are as smart as all-get-out.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:49 AM on June 4, 2010


Books are the tools of an undervalued skill—autodidacticism. Our society doesn't have many intrinsic rewards for it, since things you learn by reading and self-study aren't accredited by the Regional Association of Colleges and Schools™ and don't result in a Bachelor's Degree© or Master's Degree®. For the autodidact, however, the largely worthless processes of institutional education can constitute speed bumps rather than mountains. Books are the ticket to that crucial difference.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:50 AM on June 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


Well this is just terrible news. We had several full bookcases in the house where my oldest two kids spent their early years. One of their favorite activities was pulling the books off the shelves and making enormous piles of books on the floor for Mom and Dad to clean up. They are now much too smart for their own good. They're in a fabulous magnet school for gifted kids.

We moved while number three was an infant and now he and number four are living in a house with no space for books. We have a few cookbooks on display and a couple shelves of children's books, but we gave away a bunch of what we had and have left the rest in boxes in the garage with no plans to bring them in any time soon. We're sticking to libraries rather than bookstores now. Looks like we'll have to find a different school for those two. They're destined to be morons.
posted by Dojie at 7:52 AM on June 4, 2010


The whole books as magic talismans of learning or sophistication or intelligence thing or whatever it is you people have going on is fine I guess if it makes you happy but seems kind of dumb to me. "Look how many televisions I have! It must mean I watch the Wire a bunch!" Whatever.

I will try to use this construction more often in the future. 'The whole ridiculous and stupid thing you do is fine if it makes you happy but you are dumb and bad, and I will mock you, but remember that I said it's fine if it makes you happy.'
posted by shakespeherian at 7:53 AM on June 4, 2010


I'm not junking up my house

Sorry you feel that way. Books != junk.

On the other hand, what people feel about books is changing more rapidly than ever, so I can't really argue with your point either. Kids are acquiring knowledge in tons of different ways now, and "scholarly culture" (as the study defines it) does not reside exclusively in books anymore. In that sense, books may well not be as talismanic as they once were. The study seems blind to that fairly obvious elephant in the room.

This kernel seems the real point of the study that Salon is raving about: "In addition to providing skills and knowledge, a large home library is a manifestation of the family's preferences: an indication that they enjoy and value scholarly culture, that they find ideas congenial, reading agreeable, complex and intellectually demanding work attractive."

In my case, none of those things was true -- my house had a lot of books in it, but they were mainly Reader's Digest condensations and stuff like that, and my parents weren't particularly fond of ideas or intellectual pursuits. But my parents wanted me to like ideas, maybe out of a vague sense that ideas would help create for me a better life than they had, so they took me and let me loose in the nearest library at the earliest age possible. They probably regretted it almost as soon as they'd done it, because I became one argumentative little brat once I'd laid my hands on a few adult-level books.

In any case, without books, my life would have been a dead end. I don't know if I'm the exception that proves the rule, but there it is.

Also, here's the study, in case anyone is interested in wading through it.
posted by blucevalo at 7:53 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


heaven is other people's books
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:09 AM on June 4, 2010


Every time a conversation here turns to education you people all try to outmasturbate one-another over who loves books more.

You're kidding. That would get the books way too messy.
posted by blucevalo at 8:14 AM on June 4, 2010


Last night I dreamed that I had sex with a book!!!!

Oh, I didn't just dream it, boyo.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:16 AM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


A couple of posters have mentioned Ebooks here, and I am intensely interested in how this trend will affect many of the other issues raised in this thread. I have to date invested heavily in the ebook trend, mostly in time (converting documents to either mobi or epub formats) rather than money (though I've probably spent $200-300 at Amazon - a pittance given how much I've spent on books in my lifetime). I also have space issues, and right now my books are relegated to many boxes in the basement. Finally, I have a sixteen week old daughter -- the reason I lost my office space for books -- and I am extremely concerned that she become an avid reader when the time is right.

How will this all play out? For the first time in my life, I don't have a "display" of books, a shelf or set of shelves where I can display my books. How will my daughter see them? I admit to growing weary of how much space the books took up, and moving them is so tedious, but I want her to have full access to them later if she wishes.

Less seriously, how will I impress guests with my education (read: nerdiness)? I am only speaking partially tongue-in-cheek here; several previous posters admitted to sizing up people's book collections when they entered their home for the first time. How will this work in the ebook era? No one knows you're reading Ulysses when you do it on an iPad.
posted by Palquito at 8:22 AM on June 4, 2010


Palquito, I will confess that that is also my only major worry when I buy ebooks -- "I won't be able to proudly/ostentatiously display this on my bookshelves!" But if it's something I'm only going to read casually, and the difference in price is big enough, I usually shrug and buy the Kindle edition anyway.

As a kid, I think the single biggest impact of living in a house full of books was forming the impression, early on, that there was and is more in the world than can ever be known in a lifetime. It felt humbling, but also exciting.
posted by a small part of the world at 8:27 AM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I no longer care to own books for myself, because they are dusty and take up a lot of space and most of them aren't worth keeping around, or are freely available at the library (I usually have 3-50 books home from the library at a time). But I do buy a lot of books for my kids, for several reasons. One is that they do like to own them; it seems to matter to them. I also buy books that strike me as the kind of thing a kid might someday pull off a shelf and find interesting; these are also the kinds of books we kept when we weeded books, history books and art books, old D&D manuals, anything related to comics, and most of the science fiction. And I buy the books my kids and I do read-aloud with. I figure they might like to re-read them when they become independent readers.
posted by not that girl at 8:32 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


If it wasn't for the internet, I don't think they would have ever learned to read adequately, but they got sucked in by web sites with Playstation cheat codes, and within a couple of years were reading better than age level.

A lot of unschoolers (homeschoolers who don't follow a set curriculum) report that their kids learned to read from video games. My own oldest son has learned more reading from video games than from the reading practice we've done together; math, too. We joke that this past year, the "Morrowind Curriculum" was very effective for him. (He just turned 9 last week.)
posted by not that girl at 8:37 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


The corpse in the library, I'm reading the study right now, and it only concerns home libraries (I think this might be because the researchers compared data from a bunch of different countries, many of which probably don't have local library systems like the American one). Public libraries vs. home libraries in countries that have established public library systems would be an obvious follow-up study.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:40 AM on June 4, 2010


To those of you saying that reading to kids and taking them to the library should be equivalent to owning lots of books -- I'd agree, but only up to a point. There's something about the serendipitous discovery of books that your parents value that is truly different. There were so many of my parents' books that they would never have dreamt of reading to me, but that taught me so much about them and about the kind of person they wanted me to be.
My dad had row upon row of dictionaries. I laughed at them a lot, because they were so very nerdy, but it taught me that words and language matter. My mom had books about domestic violence and feminism, including a purple cartoon handbook meant for domestic violence survivors in Africa. It was a window into a different world -- these cartoon figures of abused African women -- long before I'd ever left the country. Many books I would never have checked out from a library -- one of my dad's was called Pink Samurai, an exploration of sex politics in Japan. I admit I picked it up for the smutty pictures, but I stayed for the insightful text. You can't predict which books will make an impact on your children, but I think books around the house are important simply as a reflection of your passions.
posted by peacheater at 8:41 AM on June 4, 2010 [10 favorites]


I meant 30-50. Damn this iPhone!
posted by not that girl at 8:58 AM on June 4, 2010


peacheater, it was from serendipitiously stumbling on a certain book of my dad's that let me to an introduction to the clouds adn the rain... weird look at a whole nother world...
posted by infini at 9:01 AM on June 4, 2010


Mostly trash on my shelves, but all my children are college graduates in spite of it.

I am an avid reader, and my mom was also an avid reader who had tons of books. I am a college graduate, have a good vocabulary, consider myself well-read, and I think I am decently intelligent.

However, all those books my mom was constantly reading and stashing in her bookcase were by Danielle Steele and her ilk. So...yay trash.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 9:08 AM on June 4, 2010


peacheater: "I think books around the house are important simply as a reflection of your passions."

Well, sure, and the kids see the books around the house that I've checked out. Does that make a difference?

My kids are entirely at home at the library, I'm on my city's library board, my daughter asked her first question at the reference desk when she was three, and we're there at least once a week. So the kids definitely see reading as Something Our Family Does. But we don't buy the books, other than some favorites.

I'm curious if there's any difference between kids living with books that have library barcode stickers vs books that have bookstore price tags, I guess. Do they have less of a sense of ownership over library books, and if so does that matter?
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:24 AM on June 4, 2010


Having lived in three countries in the last five years, I'm dismayed by my inability to not purchase books. Acquired a Kindle last year and am overall thrilled with it, though commercial e-book offerings are piss poor. But I've never once considered my library as something to flaunt or display. I take great pleasure in collecting books, especially paperbacks published by indies (NYRB, Capuchin, Persephone, Virago) partly they're well, pretty, so I have a shelf I can be proud of. I can't imagine judging people by their bookshelves; I think it's just interesting to see what people like or care enough to keep, but at least they're buying books... and reading...

That said, I think the authors of the study should head over to Asia. I can only offer up anecdotal evidence, but while affluent, educated Chinese (in the Mainland, Taiwan and South East Asia) are quite happy to purchase their young children books, hobby reading is generally frowned upon during the school year because it might interfere with exam studying. If you had a major exam one year - the GCE O' Levels for instance - forget hobby reading until you've completed them with straight As (I exaggerate but slightly. Bad grades will be blamed on novel reading.). No literature whatsoever in the curriculum unless you too "stupid" for the science stream and had to go into the arts. My parents bought me every book I wanted, but they constantly nagged me to save my "story books" for the holidays. And I had novels confiscated by my teachers.

Okay, now I see why I buy books with a vengeance...
posted by peripathetic at 9:24 AM on June 4, 2010


Books vs comics:

I have two now-adult daughters who grew up in a house of books, as I did. The oldest is a voracious reader, like my mother and I. She started early and never slowed down. The younger is more visually orientated. It took some time to convince her that she needed to learn to read; she was quite certain her older sister, who had long taken over the bed-time read-aloud, would do so forever. When she was the last of her class to be non-literate, I had to trick her into interest in learning to read (cookbooks) and she ended the year as top reader in her class. But it wasn't a joy for her like it is for her sister.

One day, when she was 11 yo, I found her mesmerized by a childrens picture book she's had since she was 3. As I watched her face, I saw the same wonder I noticed when she was younger. After she was done with it, I asked her about it. "Mom," she replied, "when you read your books, it's the same story every time. When I read this one, it's a different story every time." That stunned me.

I never again worried about her lack of interest in text-only books. I came across information that suggest comics are a good in-between for readers vs. visual. I bought her a variety of Jhonen Vasquez comic; JtHM, Squee!, I Feel Sick, and a few others that had the dark comedy she was into. She loved them (Slave Labor Graphics owned us!) and then branched into manga (whereas TokyoPop bought us from SLG). My younger daughter, just barely 19, now has a home full of books. They're not text only. So what? She still finds stories and wonder in worlds other than this one.

So, for a long time, I've considered comics in the larger category of "books". I believe the effect is the same.
posted by _paegan_ at 9:29 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Books do furnish a room.
posted by betweenthebars at 9:34 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


My daughter owns a hundred-odd books. At three. The first thing she wanted to buy with her pocket money

Wait hold on. Daughter -> *THREE* -> pocket money? Whuh? I didn't start getting spending cash until I was *FIVE*, and even then in order to get it I had to walk uphill both ways just to find a wealthy pedestrian to mug.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:38 AM on June 4, 2010


We have a small house and my daughter has a kid-sized bookshelf full of books in her room and one in the den, but we may have 25 adult books on shelves in a closet and two boxes full in the attic we don't have room for in the house proper. by ND¢

For the purposes of the article, you DO have a house of books. Some vs none is the difference discussed here.
posted by _paegan_ at 9:39 AM on June 4, 2010


Palquito, I will confess that that is also my only major worry when I buy ebooks -- "I won't be able to proudly/ostentatiously display this on my bookshelves!"

Be worried instead about this-- how will you lend that ebook to someone? How will you donate it to a non-profit or other institution? How will you write a message of encouragement / affection / whatever on the flyleaf and give it to someone you love?

This is what I find heartbreaking about ebooks.
posted by Nothing... and like it at 9:42 AM on June 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Books furnish a life!
posted by mdoar at 9:44 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Kindle owners have thinner kids who take up less space.

iPad kids will be more colorful, but overweight and easily – hey, I wonder if there are links to cool videos on Twitter?
posted by Artw at 9:44 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


> Where do I send the old books?

dpx.mfx, if you're OK with paying for shipping to Kentucky, the International Book Project might want them. Here's a list of what they want, and don't want. They're a little bit churchy, being located in the Bible Belt, but pretty low-key about it and not officially connected to any religious groups that I can see.
posted by Quietgal at 9:48 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


peripathetic, i used to sneak reading light fiction while studying assiduously for my O Levels behind closed doors, just for the mental break.
posted by infini at 9:48 AM on June 4, 2010


Parents with lots of books will also have at least one or two with some decent sex scenes. I found those soon enough when I hit puberty. I remember when I found my dad's National Lampoon collections -- jackpot!

My mother never bought romances, but one day I found her copy of "Wifey" by Judy Blume, which blew my mind because I loved Blume's kids' books and couldn't believe she wrote dirty books too. Then I found my grandmother's copy of "My Secret Garden"...

Hmm. Maybe there could be a study on the impact that dirty books have on kids. All the racy stuff in our house had a feminist bent.
posted by Toothless Willy at 10:05 AM on June 4, 2010


Something that's touched on in the article: Summer vacation can be a death sentence for a lot of early learners. I hate the idea that American schools encourages a 2 and 1/2 month break in learning. It's tough on working parents, it's tough on kids who might not learn if not in school, and it doesn't make sense outside of an agrarian society. Plus, at least in my experience, that much time off is too much for a kid anyway. You don't want to go back to school, but I know that I was personally sort of sick of time off by that point. Breaking the same time off into smaller 2 week chunks throughout the year definitely makes more sense.
A lot of unschoolers (homeschoolers who don't follow a set curriculum) report that their kids learned to read from video games. My own oldest son has learned more reading from video games than from the reading practice we've done together; math, too. We joke that this past year, the "Morrowind Curriculum" was very effective for him. (He just turned 9 last week.)
Just out of curiosity, what race/class does your son play?
posted by codacorolla at 10:08 AM on June 4, 2010


What does the study say about a child growing up around hundreds of copies of the same book?

I always thought:

Why settle for The Good Book when there are so many great books?

would make a killer bumpersticker.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:09 AM on June 4, 2010 [10 favorites]


_paegan_,
I'm really impressed that you bought JtHM for your daughter! My aunt found my copy, sandwiched between a couple of Transmetropolitan graphic novels, and expressed her grave concern to my mom. I was 24.

inifni,
Me too! I'd scramble to my desk where I'd pre-arranged my textbooks once I heard my parents' car pull into the garage. Threat of confiscation also never deterred me from reading in class with a novel on my lap and under my desk.
posted by peripathetic at 10:13 AM on June 4, 2010


i know we couldn't have been classmates, I'd have noticed you in the room right away (seeing as how I'd perfected the art, in french that too)
posted by infini at 10:21 AM on June 4, 2010


I want new books. Where do I send the old books? I loan as many as I can, but who wants the rest? Surely someone somewhere in the world wants lots of free books. Someone please help!

Paperbackswap. (Not just for paperbacks.) Out with the old! In with the new! Don't list a ginormous number of books right away, just to make sure there's no chance you get overwhelmed with requests and need to package dozens of things. Buy the "Paperbackswap cash" that lets you just print out the postage (and thus able to mail things over 13 oz. elsewhere than in person at a post office) -- makes your life much easier. Put things on your wish list so you're not completely at the mercy of whether something's available when you think to look for it.
posted by Zed at 10:35 AM on June 4, 2010


By a pleasing coincidence, this afternoon I stumbled across a handful of papers on the genetics of reading ability.

Response to early literacy instruction in the United States, Australia, and Scandinavia: A behavioral-genetic analysis seems to argue that variance in kids' environment is very important in determining reading ability before they go to school. However, after a year or so of formal education (during which time the kids' learning environments are pretty much standardised), genetic factors account for the vast majority of the variance we see in childrens' ability to read and spell.

From the Discussion: "...estimated genetic influences varied between .79 and .83 for reading and between .62 and .79 for spelling..."

However, another paper (not from the same group, but sharing a couple of authors) states that "...resilience (high reading ability despite lower environmental support) is more strongly influenced by genotype than is high reading ability with higher environmental support." I interpret this as meaning that, while kids with genes for high reading ability will have high ability even in bad environments, kids with genes for poor reading ability have potential to develop their abilities given sufficiently supportive environments.

It seems safe to assume that people with high reading ability are more likely to enjoy (and therefore own) books than people who find reading more challenging. So maybe a big part of the benefit from being in a book-owning household actually comes from having inherited genes that predispose you to being good at reading?

Another paper I found on the heritability of general cognitive ability reports the fascinating observation that the genetic influence on cognitive ability actually becomes stronger throughout maturation to adulthood. Their suggested explanation is that as we get older, we tend to choose and create environments better suited to our (genetically-encoded) predispositions. Settling into these more comfortable environments lets us drift further from the mean toward our predispositions than our more reginmented childhood environments would allow. If true, that's amazing.

NB: I love all this nature/nurture stuff, but it's way outside my field and I'm not really qualified (or currently awake enough) to assess it properly. Corrections of my reading comprehension welcomed :)

posted by metaBugs at 10:59 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Awesome. I just have to make sure to keep the Pynchon and Ballard books out of my son's reach until high school.
posted by Chocomog at 11:02 AM on June 4, 2010


Where do I send the old books?
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:15 AM on June 4


Your local hospital. I donated three boxes of books to the hospital where I work, and they fell all over themselves thanking me. People who are admitted to the hospital need stuff to read, and so do their visitors. Patients/visitors take books home so they can finish them, so the hospital always needs more.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:49 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


My own oldest son has learned more reading from video games than from the reading practice we've done together; math, too. We joke that this past year, the "Morrowind Curriculum" was very effective for him. (He just turned 9 last week.)

Just out of curiosity, what race/class does your son play?

He has various characters. He has played an Orc monk the most, I think.
posted by not that girl at 11:50 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


ArtW: I try to resist the urge to check out every bookshelf upon entering a room a little better than I did back then though.

Turgid Dahlia: I check, and I judge. Sorry!

I check, I judge and I steal borrow them.
posted by Skygazer at 11:58 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think this study misses the point. It's not the books, its the vocabulary and thinking and communication that a child is exposed to.

My parents didn't have any books, never read to me, and never took me to the library. I didn't have books untill I got to kidnergarten and even then I mostly just looked at the pictures because I couldn't really read until 1st or 2nd grade.

And I think I'm reasonably smart. I graduated college.

My parents talked to me all the time, and not like a baby. They used full vocab. They asked me questions about my world. I asked them questions about things that are befuddling to kids. I was talking in full sentences before I was 18 months. My dad always had music playing. Springsteen at 3 months seems to have been as beneficial as Walt Whitman at 8 years.

The only interaction I had with books outside of school-assigned material was when I needed to figure out something like "Why is grass green (and other ponderances of children and juggalos)". My parents would tell me to look it up in the library when I got to school. The internet is now the be-all end-all for info lookup.

Fine-tuning the use of words (either verbally, read/written, or all) and fostering curiosity are more important than how many pulp bricks are in your house. However, I suppose that books are "countable" and thus easier to draw correlations with than intangible things like curiosity and communication.

That said, I think my early non-exposure did influence my later reading habits. The longest book I have ever read is Anne of Green Gables. Any longer than that just will not hold my attention. My memory for fictional stories is very limited, since my parents never told me stories, simply talked about what they were doing or what was around or what was in the news or how to lay hardwood floors or whatever. I seem to just never put fictional novels in the etched memory area. Textbooks on the other hand I totally rule at remembering. Dense technical writing isn't difficult for me to get through. I almost never read for leisure (and rarely admit that because I fear it makes me sound like a dumbo) but when I do I read non-fiction, short stories, poetry, and the occasional novel written by some rambling man (HST). I also believe podcasts are the greatest thing since sliced bread.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:16 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am curious about the correlation between having books around the house vs. not having books around the house as it relates to kids going to college or grad school. Maybe I am taking it literally but just having the books won't cut it. Acquiring a library is a physical and intellectual exercise that takes time. And, having grown up in a house with an exceptional library, I understood what books meant to my parents. If they had just bought a ton of books and shelved them then the effect would have been very different. I would have sensed it was not real.

Kids can sense what books mean to their parents. But more importantly is the whole relationship to books and the [intellectual] pursuit of ideas and history and thinking that readers have with the content of the books.

I guess what I'm saying is you are either a book collector or you are not. You are either a book reader or you are not. And no amount of buying books just to have them will make the likelihood of your children getting into grad school. They have to feel it.

On second thought, it’s probably really just all genetic.
posted by Rashomon at 2:12 PM on June 4, 2010


I was not only surrounded by books as a kid, but surrounded by old books. Some of these were delicate antiques, kept in cabinets and never opened, so of course I'd go for them as soon as my parents were out of the house. But I never had more than a vague sense of historical time -- so I grew up with all sorts of anachronistic fascinations, from bathysphere diving to ham radio* to Victorian-style courtship**, which I believed I would someday be able to engage in as hobbies. Reading about the initial emergence of new ideas and tools particularly affected me; I'd always think that the novelty of the new thing was still current, whether it was ENIAC or Al Capone or the theory of relativity. And I would want to learn all about it so that I could fully participate in the brave new world.

Still not sure how I didn't grow up to be a museum curator or a historic reenactment geek. Maybe I should have. At any rate, I like to think of myself as a "rememberer." Perhaps there's some use for that in everyday life.

* Yeah, I know there are still people on ham radio, but it was crucial to my fantasy that I'd be living in the hinterlands of the Yukon or some place like that.

** Not to mention Victorian-style sex. I remember a particularly scandalous how-to book called "The Transmission of Life." Though it didn't take me long to realize that that book was written by a bunch of fuddy-duddies -- it was Masters and Johnson what had the real dirt.
posted by aws17576 at 2:18 PM on June 4, 2010


I no longer care to own books for myself, because they are dusty and take up a lot of space and most of them aren't worth keeping around, or are freely available at the library (I usually have 3-50 books home from the library at a time).

Depends on how outre your tastes are, and therein lies the catch. My state is cutting back on interlibrary loanage on account of no money, and I'm as sad as sad can be. (Probably have to open the too many boxes that I haven't opened since moving here four years ago.) Fortunately the child Jones is so far pretty well satisfied with what's on offer locally, but who knows when that might change? She is only in single digits.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:30 PM on June 4, 2010


it was Masters and Johnson what had the real dirt.

But no.

A thousand thanks to whichever aunt left Dr. Reuben's masterwork in the attic.
posted by everichon at 2:33 PM on June 4, 2010


A-literate, illiterate, sub-literate, etc., people tend to not have books around. The presence and quantity of books are pretty good correlators with: reduced teevee time, curiosity, imagination, verbal skill, education.

I read a lot and own a lot of books. I met my (now ex-) husband in a bookstore. Our child doesn't read much, isn't well-educated, and is very smart. Make of it what you will.

A friend asked my son, "What would you most want to inherit from your Mom?"

When he replied "the books" I was unreasonably happy.
posted by theora55 at 2:52 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I check, and I judge. Sorry!

What I'm judging: are there any books at all (reader vs. non-reader), are there a variety topics (has multiple interests), and are there any I can borrow (speaks for itself)?

Plus, I like to discover similar and dissimilar interests - a bookshelf is a great starter.

Why settle for The Good Book when there are so many great books?

Oh, yes! Saint Thomas Aquinas supposedly said the phrase "hominem unius libri timeo" (meaning "I fear the man of a single book").
posted by _paegan_ at 3:01 PM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


My parents talked to me all the time, and not like a baby. They used full vocab. They asked me questions about my world. I asked them questions about things that are befuddling to kids.

This is the real thing, way bigger than books. When you break it down to school readiness, some kids (usually middle income and up) start school with vocabularies that are at least twice as large as their lower-income (generationally lower income, not just current hard times) classmates. And having a large speaking and hearing vocabulary is the absolute key to learning to read, because all the first words you learn to read, you're just recognizing the symbolic notation of words you already know.

Some parents just don't talk to their kids at all, except to give them directions, because it's not part of the culture. I wonder if talking to your kids is part of the instruction that schools and social services give to young parents who take parenting classes? It should be.
posted by toodleydoodley at 3:23 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder how you would judge my library...Then there are six yards of science fiction books (mine), and I only keep books that I have read more than once.

My judgement depends on whether or not you are going to let me borrow these a yard at a time.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:40 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


This really is true and I believe my family is an example of that. We have bookshelves among almost all the walls of the house so it is like a miniature library. I have always loved books and so has my family. My dad and my brother have both received their doctorate degrees in their respective universities. I'm hoping to get my masters one day.

One must always keep learning because it is quite rewarding.
posted by mind2body at 4:15 PM on June 4, 2010



I want new books. Where do I send the old books? I loan as many as I can, but who wants the rest? Surely someone somewhere in the world wants lots of free books. Someone please help!


Bedraggled book-hoarders, meet The Prison Book Project and BookMooch
posted by Lisitasan at 6:23 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


My daughter owns a hundred-odd books. At three. The first thing she wanted to buy with her pocket money

Wait hold on. Daughter -> *THREE* -> pocket money? Whuh? I didn't start getting spending cash until I was *FIVE*, and even then in order to get it I had to walk uphill both ways just to find a wealthy pedestrian to mug.


I dump my 10, 20, and 50 cent pieces in my wallet out most Sundays. When she was two this resulted in her running around the house with fistfuls of change in celebration. She'd then open up Pig, pour the rest of her stored-up small coins into a big pile, roll around in it, giggling like Scrooge McDuck, and then carefully put all the money back in Pig.

(Pig is a toy, as well as a money box, although of late pig has fallen out of favour and is occasionally served up to the other toy animals for food. It was only a couple of days ago she was explaining that if he was going to keep complaining about being eaten by the other animals she'd have to poison him so he'd die and they could eat him.)

She's not especially avaricious, though. When she asked me why I hadn't fixed the cracked engine case on my motorbike and I was explaining I couldn't afforded it, she offered me all the money in Pig to help. I declined, of course.

I wonder if talking to your kids is part of the instruction that schools and social services give to young parents who take parenting classes? It should be.

It certainly features prominently in a lot of local material.
posted by rodgerd at 2:27 AM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


/derail, but rodgerd's story reminds me of an anecdote I heard today about my precocious 5 year old nephew. His mother was bargaining for fruit at a streetvendor when she ended up paying 70 rupees for the stuff the vendor had asked 80 for. He piped up loudly "mommy he's asking for 80 why are you giving him only 70?" quite.
posted by infini at 3:03 AM on June 5, 2010


Totally believe this, especially about non-fiction. I once wrote on my work blog about the same ECLS study noted in Freakonomics where I argued that the Syracuse University library system might be making a mistake when they decided that they needed to clear out a lot of shelves, and then replace the area with space for digital research. The faculty revolted over the decision. (Link goes to a Chronicle of Higher Ed story on the revolt) The faculty successfully argued that digital research could happen anywhere, but browsing and the resulting discoveries it encouraged, had to be done in the stacks. They recognized they needed a physical place with a lot of books.

I used to run a bookstore and one thing that became clear to me with that experience is that books do have some osmotic effect. I think it was Orwell who once said that the great thing about owning a book is then you didn't have to read it. There's some real truth to that. It's a thin line between owning a book and understanding its premise and argument, and actually reading the book, but not really digesting all of it. People need books. They don't necessarily need to read them all or even all of any of them. And I'm not just saying that because I'm in the book business and I want to promote sales. What I really want to promote is book places. Even if the first owner of a book never fully groks it, the second, or third, or fourth surely will. It is absolutely true that book environments inspire, promote, and create ideas and build correlations. Libraries are a requirement for higher ed institutional certification for a very good reason. Book places are environments that promote the kind of serendipitous discoveries that change the world. Be they in bookstores, libraries, or a person's home.

I drench my two kids in books for this very reason. Not just kids books either. Highly illustrated science and technology books, art books, graphic novels and comics. Kids intuitively browse. They will move from one book to another with little direction, and they will naturally expose themselves to a variety of ideas simply by being attracted to a bright, shiny cover. It may look random, but I suspect some deep connections are being made. Just like it happens in the university library I currently work for. The power of serendipity is quite a thing to behold.
posted by Toekneesan at 11:29 AM on June 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


I wonder if talking to your kids is part of the instruction that schools and social services give to young parents who take parenting classes?

It's a big part of Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 4:57 PM on June 5, 2010


The power of serendipity is quite a thing to behold.

It truly is. I remember as a kid, just wandering around the library with no agenda or preconceived notion other than wanting to explore and coming upon something fun or great and having that sense of exploration and curiosity rewarded. It's harder as an adult, especially if you've got a good knowledge of authors, but once in a while just to suspend all that and just pick up something is still fun.

Just another reason why e-books can basically suck it. (Yes, I'm a broken record about that. Apologies.)
posted by Skygazer at 12:35 PM on June 6, 2010


Never apologize, never explain.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:15 PM on June 6, 2010


I don't have views about books, but a semi-sad thing is how ND¢ shows up, does his thing, and people are all "pistols at DAWN, SIR!!" instead of chuckling and adding a favorite.
posted by Kwine at 11:07 PM on June 9, 2010


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