Self-Directed Life Newsletter: Whatever You Want to Encourage
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Hey guys,

How was your week?

I had an interesting conversation a few days ago with a parent who was frustrated about their child not reading. That is, their child COULD read, but didn’t read as much as the parent wished they would.

My questions:

Where does she get her books?

Do you go to the library? Does she go to the bookstore? Are they gifts from relatives? Did they come preinstalled on her bookshelf?

How often is she exposed to new (to her) books?

Does she go to the bookstore? Does she go to the used bookstore? Does she browse Amazon? Does she borrow books from you, from other relatives, from friends? Does she bring them home from school?

Does she have a book allowance?

Where are her books?

Are they in a basket so only the top book shows? On a shelf so only the spines show? On face-out shelves so the whole book beckons?

Are the books in her room or somewhere else in the house? Are they right next to a place where a person would want to flop down and read? Are they in sight? Are they in the heart of the home or off somewhere away from the main action?

Are they truly HER books or are they communal books (shared with other family members)?

If they are hers, does she have complete ownership over them? How many rules are there about books? (Can she take them into the bath or outside, can she eat over them or stir chocolate milk over them, can she dogear the pages or write on them, can she lend them to her friends, can she stick them down in the cushions of the couch or under her pillow?)

Where does she read? Or: Where would you expect she would do her reading?

Readers read anywhere — upside-down hanging off the couch, up in a tree, etc.

But thinking about where a child does an activity can help you figure out if there is anywhere TO do that activity.

Reading requires a comfortable place to sit (or lie down) and good light.

If you expect her to read in bed, does she have a light by the bed — on her headboard or on her bedside table? Are her books there?

If you expect her to read elsewhere, where? Think about that space. Where is the comfortable place to sit (to hook your legs over the arm of the chair or rotate so your head hangs off…), where is the light, where are the books relative to the space, and is it quiet or noisy there?

How many distractions are in or adjacent to that place? Does anything else clamor for her attention there?

Are books something your family enjoys together?

Do you go to the library weekly, visit the bookstore, give and receive books as gifts, read aloud regardless of how old your children are, talk about what you’re reading, talk about favorite books from the past, go to see the movie versions of books you’ve read together, etc. etc. etc.?

When’s the last time you talked to her about what you were reading?

Parents bemoan the fact that all their kid wants to do is watch TV and play Xbox. Yet the heart of their home is set up to look like a shrine devoted to exactly those two things. There’s a TV the size of a twin bed and every chair in the room — the most comfortable chairs in the house, by the way — are arrayed around it in rapt devotion. The Xbox is nestled alongside.

When you compare that shrine to screen-based entertainment to the area of the house devoted to their child’s other interests… Oh, wait. There is no area like that. — Boredom: The Lazy Parent’s Strategy for Inspiring Creativity

Whatever it is we want to encourage, we need to look deeply at how (or whether) we’re enabling it, encouraging it, investing in it.

We can squelch the things we wish to nurture — apparently Condoleezza Rice doesn’t read for pleasure. Why? Because “her parents piled books up on her nightstand and the result was a distaste for reading.”


There are many other questions you could ask about why a child doesn’t read for pleasure — deeper questions about screen usage (and family strife around that topic), balance between activities, over-scheduling, autonomy, and so on — but you can start very simply with the ones above.

Whatever you want to encourage,

      Does she have what she needs to do the thing?

      Does she have a place to do it?

      Does she have time to do it?

      Does the environment suggest it and support it?
(Is it possible your environment is inadvertently advertising something else instead?)

      Do you do it yourself? Is it celebrated in your family?

Before you start looking elsewhere for reasons, make sure the basics are in place and in practice.

If you immediately get stuck, you know where you need to start working.

In the last newsletter we talked about new year’s resolutions — turns out there really is a fresh start effect.


Learn to ask of all actions, “Why are they doing that?” Starting with your own. — Marcus Aurelius


Being willing to sit in a boring classroom for 12 years, and then sign up for four more years and then sign up for three or more years after that — well, that’s a pretty good measure of your willingness to essentially do what you’re told. — Samuel Bowles


“Why does a student who can’t stand a boring two-hour lecture think she’d be satisfied by a boring but well-paying job?” — In choosing a job, focus on the fun (NYT)


I shared this bit of advice on Twitter — if you’re looking to buy a book that was first published in the UK (or elsewhere not in the US) you might be able to find a cheaper option on Book Depository (that’s my affiliate link). They have free worldwide shipping, no minimum order. I recently bought Diana Athill’s new memoir Alive, Alive Oh! and the UK version was much cheaper than the new paperback on Amazon. You can also find UK (and other) releases before they are released in the US. If you buy a lot of classic books, you can sometimes find much nicer editions there than elsewhere. (They also have great sales — I bought quite a few Penguin hardbacks as Christmas gifts this year.)

My 17-year-old only asked for books this Christmas; here’s some of his haul:

Thank you as always for your continued support!

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Have a great week!
Read Later
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