From my earliest memories, I’ve wanted to read. At a very young age, I remember standing with my mom at Mass and trying to equate the words everyone was speaking around me with the words printed in the missalette. Dick and Jane books were my first triumphs and from there I was off and running. Nancy Drew, Black Beauty, Anne of Green Gables, you name it, I inhaled it.
We lived about six blocks from the neighborhood library and I was a frequent visitor. I would walk to the library and return home with my nose stuck in one of the many books I had checked out. Not once did I run into a signpost, get hit by a car or take a wrong turn, no matter how engrossed I was. I credit those years for my ability later in life to read a book while simultaneously walking two dogs and pushing a stroller through town. Life skills, people.
I remember summers where I’d be happily lying on my bed, reading yet another book, and my mom would have to forcibly throw me outside to play. It was an outrage. The library’s summer reading program was a revelation — I could be rewarded for reading? Outstanding bonus! So many scratch and sniff stickers accumulated, so few allowable places to put them.
I went to a public elementary school until the middle of sixth grade when my parents finally gave up on it. I was so far ahead, I was decorating the bulletin boards and reading during class. No one cared. Once they moved me to Catholic school though, I actually had to apply myself. That didn’t stop me from escaping hideous math class by covertly reading Black Beauty beneath my textbook. I thought I was super sneaky until my folks came home from the parent/teacher conference and had a fierce word with me. I was busted — no more novels in math. Dang it.
In my world, reading is the ultimate escape: the best way to learn about other people, places, thoughts and ideas. It is beyond me why not everyone voraciously reads. It’s almost as weird as people who don’t like chocolate. I understand if reading is difficult for you but to just not be interested — how is this possible?
So it was with high hopes and great expectations that I read to my boys from infancy. Our trips to the children’s library were numerous as I worked to instill their devotion to the printed page. Will and Nick were going to love reading as much as I did or I was going to die trying, with a Toot and Puddle book clutched in my lifeless hand.
It didn’t go as smoothly as I hoped. Yes, both started reading in kindergarten (still amazing to me). Yes, we faithfully read the picture books from school every night. Unfortunately, I was the only one who was enthusiastic about it.
Nick didn’t like to read at all but he did love Reading Recovery class and would do anything for his teacher. Thanks to Cristina, he’s a fluent reader today. Unfortunately, he’d rather have a root canal without the benefit of anesthesia than pick up a book for pleasure reading. Pleasure and reading have no relationship, according to Nick. I am devastated.
At Will’s third grade parent/teacher conference, I bemoaned the fact that he was only interested in books that seemed too easy for him. What about chapter books? Shouldn’t he be reading chapter books by now? His teacher patiently explained to me that it didn’t matter what he read, as long as he read. Right, I thought. Back off, Amy.
I have hope for Will — he read the entire series of CJ Box’s Joe Pickett books one year. Now he reads news articles on his phone. It’s hard for a book traditionalist like me, but those do count as reading.
My niece and nephew are not immune to my book pushing either. Both are incredibly smart but the bibliophile bug has bitten neither. However, Regan is now listening to David Sedaris and Carl Hiassen books when she travels and Wheeler was actually seen reading CJ Box books this summer, even with an available WiFi signal. Progress!
Is there such a thing as too many books? I think not. I am a firm believer in having several books going at one time and I am passionate about not finishing a book just because I started it. Forget that! There are a zillion books out there, just waiting to be read. Why would I waste my time with one that doesn’t pique my interest? Next!
I am also not a digital book convert. All hail you Kindle and Nook fans — you certainly aren’t schlepping nearly the weight or bulkiness that I am on planes and to the beach. But I just don’t like e-books. I like to refer back or look ahead and it’s too hard and annoying for me to do that digitally.
As my final paean to books, I ask you this — what other present can you completely use prior to gifting it, without the recipient knowing or caring? Books! It’s not wrong to read an entire book before you give it to the person. You just have to be careful with the spine, that’s all. It’s totally acceptable. I said so.
Amy Albrecht is the executive director of the Center for a Vital Community.