I'm picking up a thread from last week's post. While writing about my obsession with books, I started to go off on a tangent about non-readers. No, no, I told myself, stay on topic. So, I saved that thought to muse on today. I'm always surprised when I hear people say they don't have time to read. Like everything else, we make time for the things we enjoy. I'm more saddened when people say they don't like to read. And I wonder how they got that way.
Did no one tell them that reading is fun? Hang on. As writers, we're forever cautioned to show not tell. So, let me rephrase that. Did no ever show them how much fun it is to read? Did no one read to them as children? Did they never see their parents reading for enjoyment? Oh, sure, you say. Blame it on the parents.
I don't remember my parents reading to me. I'm sure Mom must have when I was little, but by the time my memory kicks in I only remember Mom being too busy with the younger kids (I'm the oldest of seven) to read to me. And Dad was always working. (It wasn't until much later that I remember him reading, history mostly. Mom didn't start reading for pleasure until I introduced her to romance novels back in the '80s.) We didn't have many books at home when I was young. My grandmother always gave each of us a book for Christmas and birthday. Money was tight for everyone then. We lived in a rural area where the nearest public library was a distance and the bookmobile only visited the school once a month and we were limited on how many books we could check out. How I ever became an avid reader is beyond me.
Still, I do believe that's where the enjoyment of reading starts—parents reading to children. Children seeing their parents reading. I read to my children when they were babies, before they could understand language. It didn't matter what I read out loud, it was the sound that was important. That's how they learn language—by hearing it. My son-in-law read medical textbooks to his babies. My daughter read out loud whatever book she was reading for enjoyment. We also read kiddie books to the babies. Think about it. A baby being cuddled, Mom or Dad's heart under their ear, hearing the sound of the parent's voice. Pure pleasure. What a great association. Even my almost-two year old grandson who has two speeds, fast and faster, will sit still for a book. Of course, their Nana and Papa love it when the little ones crawl up into our laps with a book so the enjoyment goes both ways.
Babies are sponges. They take in everything about their world. They are curious, eager to learn. How do we kill that? By making reading a chore. "You have to read for a half hour every day." Throw in the words "have to" and you destroy whatever benefit daily reading was supposed to instill. There were times when I was so overloaded with all the obligations of life that I would have given anything to have a half hour to read. That isn't really the point, is it?
So, what happens when those eager little sponges go off to school? Is reading still fun? It's a subject to learn—like math and spelling and state capitals. To make it easier to handle, the teacher divides the kids by reading ability into groups. (At least, that's what we did when I taught elementary school—back in the Dark Ages. Do they still do this?) No matter how we sugar-coated reality by giving the groups cutesy names (remember Bluebirds?) every kid quickly knew which group was which. And kids in the group with least ability were stigmatized. Who wouldn't give up?
Oh, wait, it gets worse. Kids are told not to read certain things, like comic books or Harry Potter. I've always maintained that any reading is great. Look at the phenomenon that the Potter series has wrought. Kids devouring books. Did you ever see kids waiting in line at the show reading (rather, rereading) the book on which the movie is based before? I never did. And when they had to wait for each book, they discovered other series books like Percy Jackson, I Am Number Four, or The Hunger Games. Like they couldn't get enough adventure.
As a fifth grader, I was told to put that book away and stop wasting my time reading. Never mind it was while I was supposed to be doing math. Never mind the teacher didn't ask if I was finished with said math. To this day, I remember being told not to waste time reading. Can you imagine?
Sounds like I'm blaming teachers, right? There has to be a better way of helping children learn to read. With huge classes (I had forty-two first graders in my first year teaching), how is one person supposed to reach each child individually?
Okay, I'm going off on a tangent and turning "musing" into a rant over education. I do want to add that good teachers try very hard to reach all students. They encourage reading. They show that reading can be fun and not a chore. I wasn't always successful as a teacher, but I read out loud to my students. To the younger ones, I read Charlotte's Web and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, among others. To the older ones, A Wrinkle in Time and The Hobbit. Even the sixth graders listened eagerly to Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, which was nothing like the saccharine Disney movie rendering. The best part about reading out loud for fifteen minutes after lunch was when the kids begged me not to stop. No, the best part was when a student came in the next day with the same book and said s/he couldn't wait for me to finish the story and had to find out how it ended.
Reading is so important in our lives. Remember the PSA ad "Reading is FUNdamental"? Emphasis on "fun" but also how essential it is. Kids who learn that reading is fun will find it easier to read things that are necessary—like computer software manuals (which I have to say I only read after I get stuck) or in-depth news reports on candidates for elected office or business reports for their jobs.
To earn a college degree, I had to read a lot—history, literature, sociology, philosophy, science. Some I enjoyed. Others? Well, let's just say I slogged through a lot of words. Still, college wasn't overwhelming because I could read well. I could read well because I read a lot. The adage "practice makes perfect" certainly applies here. But, after I read all the things necessary for my education and subsequent jobs, I relaxed by reading what I wanted to—for fun.
People who find reading difficult or say they do not like to read miss so much. They miss the wonder of other worlds—and I'm not just talking about alien universes, like what I write. They miss the wonder of other times, other places, people whose life circumstances are different from the reader's. They miss the fun.
I'm preaching to the choir, right?
On my FaceBook author page, I shared the latest book I read. I hope others will also share. I'm always looking for a good book.