Monday, October 21, 2013

On Reading

My two oldest daughters have been really into reading lately.

We had an atrocious summer, full of gigantic, sweeping changes and three--count them, three--drives across the entire nation. We've landed on our feet, but, just like a cat tossed out of a 20 story building, the shock is still palpable. The one thing that kept my two older daughters sane this summer was Harry Potter.

(The two younger girls, largely, did not stay sane. Our four year old can talk our ears off in the car, but ultimately discovered the pleasures of a magnadoodle. The baby? Well, she learned to scream and hence to boss all of us around. It was tough, man, tough).

Somewhere along the road, we bought our two bigs (as we call them) Kindles. They had run through so many books in the car that it was hard to deal with all of the paper. Seriously. They were going through a book a day, and that means stopping to buy new ones, arguing over them, and then managing the stack of books in a car full of two adults, four kids, and two dogs. It was too much. We bought them each a Kindle and the entire Harry Potter library--seven books and over 4,000 pages.

They read them all in less than three months.

Now, that's impressive to me. As a reader and a writer, I hardly read that fast. The advantage of the Kindle, of course, is that they can read the same book at the same time. I chimed in and read through three of them (before, frankly, needing a break) but they kept on rolling ahead, full steam.

It really got me thinking about the advantages of reading. There's tons and tons of research out there pointing to the extraordinary power that reading gives you. It changes your brain, it makes you think more clearly, it gives you better insight into people, it makes you a better writer, and it helps you to get to know yourself better. These are not small advantages. I look at my college students, many of whom have not read any book all the way through, and I think that the way that things are going, those who read will hold what can only be seen as a super-power in the very near future.

School does not let children and teenager read enough. Once in a while, a book might be taught, or a book may be read as a class, but not enough. School encourages reading at home by word, but by action it fills you with enough activities to keep you busy without picking up a book. That, mixed with the prevalence of technology and television (and how those are two areas that school has really embraced whole-heartedly), makes it  very difficult for an individual to be a reader in this day and age.

What can you do about it? Well, we took our kids out of school (material for another post, of course), and we give them ample time to read. This might mean turning off the television. It might mean taking a special trip with mom or dad to the coffee shop to sit and read with a drink. And it might mean putting a light next to their beds and letting them read a little before going to sleep (they actually ask to go to bed early so they can read more!). We ask them about what they're reading, quiz them about the meaning behind the texts, and enjoy hearing them retell stories from their books.

Reading is a natural act. There is much in our lives--inner and outer--that sits in darkness. Fiction illuminates these areas of being, shows us things that are a good deal more than true. I may not do everything right in this world, but when I see the hunger my kids have for reading, I'm pretty pleased.

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