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Back to Basics: Reading

This course honors the fortieth anniversary of one of the most influential (and our favorite) pro-reading shows on tv, Reading Rainbow, and its beloved host, LeVar Burton.

Writers talk about all the super important fundamentals of writing. It’s true, there are so many and we’ve discussed a lot of them but one crucial part of writing that doesn't get enough attention isn't even writing at all. We’re taking a bit of a different approach this month: we're exploring a fundamental that highlights our love for writing. In this Back to Basics course, we’re talking about the importance of reading. Not to sound like an uptight ‘Written & Oral’ professor but reading is really important. We’ll break down why and show how reading can improve your writing. Let’s roll!


What is comprehending and interpreting reading?

Ok we’ll admit this one is pretty simple. If you’re on our website right now you definitely don’t need our help with figuring out what reading is. The only real thing we’ll add here is that reading involves a little bit more than just looking at the words on your screen. You’re also trying to comprehend—understand—what’s being said. Remember those times when you’ve glanced through a passage from your science textbook for homework and you definitely spaced out? Don’t worry we’ve all been there. Instantly forgetting what you read is obviously not something you’ll want to keep doing. When you read, take your time to let the information sink in.

Note-taking is a common way to comprehend and interpret reading; you’ve probably done it hundreds of times if you’ve ever been a student. Taking notes helps you understand what you've read by connecting a physical act to the mental input. It’s a similar idea for reading fiction: not that you should take rigorous notes of your favorite book (unless that’s already your thing!) but sometimes underlining a passage or circling a page number in a book you own can really help you pick out important things from your reading. You can also jot down some thoughts on post-it notes or in a notebook. Just please make sure to only mark up books you already own and not ones you borrowed from your local library or a friend. Note to any librarians reading this, we’re not responsible for damages!


The ‘why’ in why reading is so important.

Stephen King said, “the real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing...”. There’s some more to that quote we'll explore later. When you read a lot, you get a way better grasp of writing and it just comes naturally. When you read a story, it’s like you have a front row seat inside the author’s mind. You’ll see how they describe places and people, introduce plot points, and portray character’s emotions. Reading is a "learn by example" experience; you can pick up tricks like how much of a scene to describe or what not to do in your own work.


How reading can improve writing.

Let’s unpack the second half of King's quote: “One comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order.” This goes back to what we were talking about earlier, how reading is a learning experience. When you read, and read a lot, you really are getting the chance to see how other authors tackle things. Every author has their own approach (voice) so READ, and read a variety! While a writer's voice is a topic all on its own, the core part is that reading different authors and genres helps out big time. Routledge summarizes that reading “exposes you to different writing styles… helps you to subconsciously absorb syntax, grammar, style, and punctuation… gives you increased insight and inspiration.”

Before we go to our challenge, remember to focus on the content of what you’re reading by doing things like jotting down notes or annotating things that stick out to you. Read a lot (which really goes without saying) but also try to read from different areas of fiction and different writing styles. You don’t need to venture too far out of your comfort zone but pushing your own boundaries is great! Seeing how different authors approach writing in their own ways can give you valuable insight and even guide you in developing your own writing style.


Let’s get to the challenge! This Back to Basics is much more focused on reading so our challenge reflects that.

Choose a book you’ve never read before—any book, however long and by whomever you want. After at least a few chapters, write two things you like and one thing you don't like about how the book is written. Think about how this affects your own writing style.

Thanks for joining us for this Back to Basics course! If you tried this month’s challenge, let's talk about it on Discord or share on social media using #WWB2B. You can also send us your challenge on the Back to Basics page.

Editor's note:


I hope it's as wonderful as you are!


About the author: Izhan Arif is a Teaching of English major at UIC who loves to write in his spare time. Izhan is also a very big fan of comic books and comic book TV shows and movies, he hopes to write his own comic books at some point as well.


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