Required Reading

I am always baffled by articles suggesting ways parents can encourage their children to read more: Designate a family reading period and set a timer. Enroll in library summer reading programs. Have them tell you about what they read. Read the same books you want them to read and then discuss them.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I think encouraging children to read is wonderful. If more people spent more time reading more books, the world would be a better place. Especially for authors and optometrists. But in my family, the challenge wasn’t to get children to read, it was to get them to stop reading long enough to do other stuff like chores and homework and practicing the piano.

So it isn’t the goal of encouraging reading that I don’t understand; just the strategies.

Set a timer? Only if it has a “reset for more time so I can finish this chapter” button.

Summer reading programs? “You mean I only get to read five books a week? And I have to keep track?”

Talking with parents about what you read? Don’t even think about it. First of all, I had the same attitude as a child that I have now: Don’t bother me with questions about the book I just finished; leave me in peace to finish the book I just started.

Besides, given that by third grade I was reading most of the grownup books that came into the house, I wouldn’t have necessarily wanted to discuss everything I read with anyone, especially my parents. I remember once coming across a character in a novel, fighting with his wife, who started going to bed “only to sleep.” At age nine or ten, I couldn’t imagine what other reasons for going to bed there could possibly be. I briefly considered asking my mother about it, but decided against it. I had just a suspicion that this was some sort of grownup thing I might be deemed too young to understand. More importantly, I might be deemed too young to read my parents’ library books, and I didn’t want to risk limiting my supply.

Later, in high school, I remember checking out a few books from the public library that I found shocking but educational. Since this reading experience somewhat made up for my serious lack of real-world experience, I was less impressed than many of my more worldly-wise peers when Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls came along. It was a notorious bestseller about drugs, sex, and Hollywood stars, considered so racy that students were forbidden to read it in study hall. As a strategy to encourage reading, this was quite effective. Even kids who had never willingly read a book in their lives finished this one—or at least read the exciting bits. I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. I had read more explicit stuff. Besides, since all the promiscuous, drug-using characters came to tragic ends, I thought it was actually a very moral book.

By now, I have no need to worry about anyone censoring or limiting my reading. I can stay up past bedtime and read as many chapters as I want. But I still wouldn’t necessarily want the general public—or my children—much less my mother!—knowing every single book I read.

Thank God and all those geeky technology angels for creating the convenient and oh-so-private e-reader.

Categories: Remembering When, Words for Nerds | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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