Practice makes perfect: Reading for our team of readers

Duncan Smith, Co-founder and General Manager of NoveList
Duncan Smith, Co-founder and General Manager of NoveList

On February 11, while the world is focused on medals of the gold, silver and bronze kind, many of us will be in Denver focusing on medals of another kind—the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in  Fiction and Nonfiction. The XXIII Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea and the Carnegie Medals share more than just temporal synchronicity, spectators and medals. They celebrate persistent effort, serve to bring the best aspects of our humanity to the forefront, and demonstrate the value of community and the enduring nature of the human spirit.

While it will be easy to be swept up in the moment when a skater finally lands that quadruple axel, or a downhill skier sets a new Olympic record, we need to remember the source of these moments. The source is the days, the years of constant practice. Every successful jump is the culmination of hours of daily practice where each fall, every failure and all of the successes teach the body something about how to do it better.

The same is true of reading. I was in Hillsboro, Oregon recently working with a group of skilled librarians. We were talking about books we had recently read and books that had made a difference in our lives. It was interesting to see how many of us quickly named a title from either our childhood, or high school days. One reader talked about reading Elie Wiesel’s Night and how it had changed her view of what was possible in the world—that sometimes we can be more inhuman than human. Another talked about reading The Things They Carried and how it re-framed her thinking about not only the Vietnam War but war. One of the last members of our group to speak talked about several books and realized that all of them had “bad” fathers. We watched as she saw the link between those stories and her own troubled relationship with a distant and difficult parent.

Reading can sometimes be a visceral experience but books are not only felt in our bodies. They train both our mind and our hearts to think more clearly and feel more deeply. While we read individual titles, each title becomes part of a larger whole—is integrated into not only our reading but our lives.

The Carnegie Medals, and all of the awards given by ALA to books and authors, remind us that one of our roles is to help our readers find the best books with which to practice the skill of reading. The books that will help them grow in the ways they want to grow. To become more of the person they aspire to be. When it comes to identifying the best works out there—we are not just spectators, we are not just readers, we are those coaches who are looking for the best players, the most talented performers and working to add them to our readers’ team.


Established in 2012, the Carnegie Medals serve as a guide to help adults select quality reading material. They are the first single-book awards for adult books given by the American Library Association and reflect the expert judgment and insight of library professionals and booksellers who work closely with adult readers. The winning selections will be announced at the Reference and User Services Association’s Book and Media Awards Ceremony, sponsored by NoveList, during the ALA Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits in Denver, Colorado.


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