Every year around this time, I’m faced with the same problem: Dozens of high school students are flocking to my library in search of their required reading for AP English classes, and even though I’m lucky enough to have two sets of shelves in my teen space set aside for these books, there never seem to be enough copies. When print copies run out, I can always direct the teens to electronic collections, but what happens when those copies are also checked out?
Last month, an article presented a potential solution when it introduced me to an app called Serial Reader. I interested in the claim that Serial Reader would let me “conquer the classics in ten minutes a day.” To get started, I downloaded the free version of the app to my iPad to try. I was then prompted to subscribe to a book from their extensive list of classic and public domain titles and set a daily delivery time. I chose Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, and for the next ten days, Serial Reader sent me a section of the book that I could read in an average of ten minutes (some sections took a bit longer, but none were longer than fifteen minutes). The app synced my progress across my devices, so I could start a section during a break at work on my smartphone and finish it later on my tablet at home. By the end of ten days, I had read all of Common Sense.
I was pleased to find that many of the titles offered in the app are the same titles that the AP students are trying to find in my library, and I was so delighted with my reading progress that I decided to upgrade to the premium version of the app for $2.99. Upgrading gave me access to all the same titles offered by the free version, but also allowed me to take notes, highlight, share my progress via social media, and change the size and style of the font.
For a second test case, I chose The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Issues to me like clockwork, every day at 9:00 AM, but with summer reading going full force, there were a few days when I skipped my reading. The issues simply piled up, waiting for me to read them, and it was easy to catch up. If I was in a rush or excited about what was happening in the book, I could read ahead to the next issue.
I didn’t love The Turn of the Screw, but I was motivated to keep going by the fact that I never had to read for more than fifteen minutes at a time, and also by the fun badges with which the app marked my progress: I received a badge for reading a section a day for two weeks; a word for every book in Thomas Jefferson’s library (6,487); a word for every map owned by King George III of England (50,000), and more.
As of this writing, I’m a little more than halfway through my fourth book in Serial Reader, and I’ve found that it has a little something for everyone. New titles are added often and range from popular fiction such as a wide range of Agatha Christie mysteries to classics like Les Miserables and Great Expectations and nonfiction titles including The Federalist Papers and Twelve Years a Slave. I am, indeed, conquering the classics ten minutes at a time.
Because many of the titles available are the ones that AP students are looking for in the library, I’ve told several of my patrons about this app. It has been useful for my AP students, and I’m looking forward to showing it to some reluctant readers, too. Using Serial Reader has encouraged me to catch up on some of the classics I missed over the years, and the appeal of reading short sections each day is certainly broad. As the start of school approaches and the demand for required titles for AP English assignments increases, I’m glad to have Serial Reader as a tool in my librarian arsenal.
–Elizabeth Norton, currently reading Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton