Volume XXIX: Back-to-School Is for Readers, Too
Nostalgia, lifelong learning, and how we can be better readers
Who says back-to-school is just for students? As readers, we can use the time to refresh, evaluate any reading goals for the rest of year, and better understand how we can be the best readers we can be, whatever that may look like for us.
[Dear readers: This issue discusses current events engrained in systemic and structural racism.]
Back-to-school has always been one of my favorite times of the year, even now as a 27 year old who hasn’t been in school for over five years. While growing up I looked forward to another year spent with friends and in classrooms, now I look back on the season with a sense of nostalgia, missing the fresh start that comes with another school year, the new pens filling my pencil case, the clean notebooks.
But, as a book lover, I have also realized that the practices coupled with back-to-school aren’t just for the classroom. As a perpetual reader, I find myself learning all year long through the fiction I crave and the nonfiction I annotate. And who says that the “fresh start” feeling that back-to-school ushers in is just for those within school walls? Why can’t we as lovers of all things bookish harness that feeling for ourselves, too, and look at the next 10 months as a time for our own growth, whatever that may mean for us personally?
In today’s issue, we’re sharing some tools that we believe have made us better readers, and some topics we want to learn more about, as well as rights we all should advocate for, in the coming months. We’d love to know your thoughts, too—feel free to share books you’d like to read this “school” year, your favorite reading tools, and more in the comments.
A Deeper Look
One of my favorite parts of back-to-school was browsing for new supplies. Mentioning this to a friend the other day, she asked why I can’t still treat myself to a few new tools this month, carrying on the tradition. She was right, of course, and now I’m the proud owner of two new Poketo pens and one colorful post-it pad.
What are my favorite reading tools?
Annotating is made all the more fun with a good pen, and I’m a devout Poketo Vivid Gel Pen user (in pastel). The only time I stray is when I find a branded, similar pen from an independent bookstore (so far, I’ve collected a few from Books Are Magic and Meet Cute Books).
While I don’t highlight my books, I do love color-coding my planner, and I use Alohaster Highlighters, which are (I am told) actually meant for highlighting books and textbooks.
When traveling, I love to visit independent bookstores. Even if I don’t purchase a book, I always try to grab a postcard of the store, bookmark, or other small token to bring home with me. For a while, I stored all my bookmarks in a pile on my desk, but after finding Studio Arugula at a local craft fair, I now use a cup to display them on my shelf. (And I’ve started framing the postcards!)
While I’ve never tracked my reading, I am a huge fan of The StoryGraph, a Goodreads alternative (you can even import all your Goodreads data!) that allows you to track, discover, and read with friends. It’s my go to when I want to learn more about a book, especially when looking into content warnings.
Visiting a local bookstore was another back-to-school tradition for me growing up. Of course, I visited the library and bookstore throughout the year, but bringing a few new reads to class on the first day always felt exciting. What’s on my back-to-school reading list for this year?
This month, readers raised money to assist in essential care for those impacted by the Maui wildfires, a result of centuries of imperialism. I recently finished This Is Paradise and am reading Poukahangatus on audio. You can learn more about the fundraising efforts here.
August is also Women in Translation Month. While there has been seemingly some progress made in the overall number of translated books by women published each year in the U.S., these books still predominantly come from the French, German, Italian, and Spanish. And there are few (if any) books published by trans women (of course, this is based on public information and identities are by no means required—nor expected—to be publicly shared). Here are some queer books in translation to add to your list.
I love a new release as much as any reader, but I also crave backlist titles (meaning those that have been out for over a year). Plus, paperbacks save money! Check out this breakdown of hardcover vs. paperback titles and check out this roundup of backlist titles I’m making my way through.
Ways to Respond
We can’t talk about back-to-school without discussing the ongoing book bans and challenges to educational materials across the country.
Late last month, Houston’s new education superintendent announced that school libraries would be turned into disciplinary centers. Essentially, when a student “acts out,” they’ll be sent to (virtually) learn alone in these converted spaces. As part of the process, librarians at 28 schools have already been let go, and 57 additional libraries are being evaluated.
This move predominately impacts Black and Brown children—62% of the district’s students are Latine and 22% are Black—removing safe spaces, educational resources, and further hampering learning for individuals of already historically and systematically excluded identities.
Just as local residents are expressing their anger with the decision, we encourage all of us to rally behind them and contact superintendent Mike Miles to express our disapproval:
F. Mike Miles
HISD Superintendent of Schools
4400 West 18th Street
Houston, Texas 77092-8501
Telephone: (713) 556-6300
And, unfortunately, attempts to limit such resources and spaces are not isolated to Houston. School districts are further targeting LGBTQIA2S+ rights and resources, requiring educators to “out” their students, ignore students’ pronouns and names, and even turning to AI to further limit classroom and library reading materials.
We’ve discussed many times the importance of fighting such bans and limits at a local, state, and national level. Even if you don’t think such acts are occurring in your community, that doesn’t mean they aren’t, nor that they won’t. Learn more about getting involved here.
Every day is book lover’s day when you’re a reader, but here are some tips for getting others to join our cult:
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the type of reader I want to be and the type of reader I currently am, and this time of year feels like a good time to help myself grow into the former even more. From more frequent used bookstore trips (I love leaving with a surprise read), to allowing myself more space to read, I am confident that doing so will not only make me a better reader, but, somehow, a more passionate one.
And being a reader isn’t just about reading—it’s about advocating for literature, for access to books, promoting indie and new authors, authors and stories that have been systematically excluded from publishing, and pushing for visibility and equity for those working behind-the-scenes in the industry. It’s about supporting independent bookstores over Amazon and other giants when we can and when accessible, and supporting the schools and libraries that turned us into readers in the first place.
We’ll be back in a few weeks with a deep dive into a recent read! In the meantime, make sure to check out our free downloads (wallpapers, templates, and more), and our exclusive downloads for newsletter subscribers (with password newsletterdownloads).
If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, don’t hesitate to get in touch via email, the comments below, or Instagram DM.