Encouraging the Longer Reads: An Educator’s Dilemma

Here’s a typical day in either my magazine writing or feature writing class. It usually goes something like this:

Me: “So, today your assignment is to read a classic and masterful example of profile writing as we prepare to write our own profile pieces. The article is called “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold” and was written by Gay Talese in 1966. The article ran in Esquire magazine and is still regarded as one of the finest profile pieces ever written.” http://www.esquire.com/features/ESQ1003-OCT_SINATRA_rev_

Then, the students usually look at the length of the piece and say things like…

“Wow. This is a L-O-N-G piece.”

“How many pages is this? It’s kinda long, isn’t it?”

“Exactly how long is this article?”

“How long will it take me to read this?”

It’s long. I get it (and I know how long it is, folks). It’s brilliant. So, who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? Who’s afraid of a lengthy story?

I thought I was on an island for a little while, scratching my head and then second guessing myself – was this article too involved for them to analyze? I quickly slapped my face and got it together. No. It’s perfect, I thought. Do not deviate from the game plan. Besides, it’s already on the syllabus. I must encourage students to read these longer articles. I must force them to step away from the brevity of texting, Twitter, and Facebook. They must delve into these substantial pieces.

On Saturday, May 28, an article in The Washington Post written by Paul Farhi appeared on my doorstep and helped validate my beliefs. The article is entitled: “Up from the pit of pithiness on the Web: While others tweet, some think the next big thing will be long, thoughtful prose.” Oh joy of joys! The article discusses a wonderful website that I’ve now linked to through Scribe Links on my blog called Longreads.com, a site created by Mark Armstrong (longreads.com). He posts articles that are over 1,500 words and there are a variety of articles and stories to read—all on the lengthy side. And guess what ladies and gentlemen? “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold” is among those listed. (For more on this Washington Post article, visit thewashingtonpost.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/viewer.aspx to register and read it). I’m enamored with this idea of a site promoting longer reads. As Armstrong notes, it’s perfect for people who want substance when they are commuting, waiting for a plane, on a car ride, waiting for the bus, etc. And, it’s perfect to read on a Kindle or an iPad (and even suitable for those of us reading on computers who are not in transit).

Not everyone wants information in a quick and easy way. People are still reading long books like The Pillars of the Earth, The Help, “…And Ladies of The Club”, and Bleak House. It’s still being done. Likewise, folks might like to plunk themselves down with a longer journalism story, fiction or creative non-fiction piece, or even an interview or historical article. Longreads.com is there for you when you need that kind of stimulation to entertain you when you’re in-between books or you forgot to pack something to read on that trip on the subway across town.

So, fall feature writing students B-E-W-A-R-E. There may be quite a few long reads on the syllabus, but trust me, they are all worth the (long?) investment of your time.