Reading

Written 6 July 2009 at 0:57

Just moments ago I counted that I have read twenty-five books in the last ten completed calendar months. Since the start of my senior year I’ve kept track of all the books and major pieces of literature that I’ve read. Not all are books, of course: two items on my list are plays. On the other hand, not all of it is literature: five are non-fiction. Here it is in its entirety – I write down title, author, and the date I finished the piece:

The True Patriot, Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer (August 31)
Cry the Beloved Country, Alan Paton (September 8)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare (September 16)
Give Me Liberty!, Gerry Spence (September 19)
The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne (October 6)
Crazy Horse, Mari Sandoz (November 11)
The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli (November 18)
Common Sense Government, Al Gore (November 25)
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (December 9)
World Without End, Ken Follett (December 21)
The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway (December 21)
Sharpe’s Trafalgar, Bernard Cornwell (December 24)
Demian, Hermann Hesse (January 2)
Bless Me, Ultima, Rudolfo Anaya (January 25)
Billy Budd, Herman Melville (January 31)
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, William Shakespeare (March 1)
A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini (March 5)
The Curious Book, Arkady Leokum (March 10)
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (March 15)
Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier (March 22)
The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner (April 20)
Fall On Your Knees, Ann-Marie MacDonald (May 5)
Inside a U.S. Embassy, ed. Shawn Dorman (May 22)
The Princess Bride, William Goldman (June 4)
Flatland, Edwin A. Abbott (June 7)
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini (June 8)
The Secret Scripture, Sebastian Barry (July 5)

In keeping my list, I’ve very much regretted not having started the habit earlier. There are many books I know I’ve read that I wish I knew where to place in the chronology of my life. Probably even more abundant are the titles read that I wish I remembered – lost in the recesses of my forgetfulness. I like thinking about what the first books were that I read that would have been big enough to merit being put on this list – my first adult-sized stories, even if not necessarily adult in content. The Hobbit is a piece of literature loved by children and adults alike, and I remember when my father had me tackle its first page of it to see if I was ready to read it. I remember stumbling on several words and I think my dad asked me if I thought I could handle it. I said I would wait.

The idea has stuck in my mind that I was in the third grade when I went back and read The Hobbit. Now that I think about it though, it actually may have been third grade when I read the first page and decided to put it off. I can’t tell you what years these things happened, but during the course of my childhood my parents read my siblings and me the entire Chronicles of Narnia as well as the first few Harry Potter books. I can remember summers spent doing the Ketchikan Public Library’s summer reading program, where kids checked out books and then wrote down the ones they read and brought in their progress to get better and better prizes. I never remember getting easy books just so I could write another down.

There were always good books I loved down in the children’s section of the library. I can remember different series I liked – and it was always about the series – both in fiction and non-fiction. There were authors who turned out book after book that I would just love. The most successful has to have been Brian Jacques, who ended up having me read fifteen of his Redwall books before I grew too old for them. Then there were the library’s books about different countries and peoples – necessarily written by different authors, but often published in wonderful series so that I could just pull one book after the other off the shelf, travelling across the world without leaving a formatting style.

In many ways the books I read as a kid were wonderful indicators of my interests and development. In the world of adult books, oftentimes a novel’s style and content are veiled in mystery before one is committed to its reading. For kids this is a less common problem, and I know it was a rare occasion when I ended up reading a book that wasn’t exactly what I was looking for – unless of course it was given to me.

My parents have given me so many books – my siblings too. I can’t thank them enough for all they contributed to my ability to do the things I can today – like write this posting, for example. Ironically though, I actually learned to read rather late in my childhood – first grade. I guess I could do a little in kindergarten, but I only remember dealing with the same very very simple books, and only at the end of the year. I even remember one being called “Even Steven,” which I recall involving a robot “at odds” with another called “Odd Todd.” I also remember asking classmates to read the harder books for me. Maybe I was already training to be a politician.

Reading is something that is absolutely essential to our development – but I don’t think relocating funds towards its promotion in schools and the creation of more reading tests will help our children to value it more. The simple truth is that any classroom teacher can only do so much to teach children how to read. I value teachers very much, but when it comes to endearing a child to books, the responsibility lies clearly with their parents. Reading out loud can go hand in hand with parenting, and it’s most effective when done one on one with all the attention and love that usually only those very close to a child will give. Buying books for a kid is the domain of their family, and going to the library is something that needs to be done outside school too. What I’m trying to get at, in short, is this:

If I was king of the world, I wouldn’t tell teachers to fill class time with books and increase the number of reading tests. The first thing I’d do is crack down on the publishing industry, which of late has made books more and more like luxury items. Have you noticed how expensive books have now become? Paperbacks seem like a steal at less than seven bucks, and it’s no surprise to see your standard hardback at more than twenty-five. Children’s books are no exception. There will always be libraries and thrift stores and little book sellers like the ones I loved seeing along the Seine – but putting nice new books on shelves in a child’s room is perhaps one of the best things a parent can do. If they’ve been given the right push, that child’s going to take a book down all on their own, and they’re going to love it. They’ll open it up and start reading – perhaps not the exact words at first, but if that desire is kept alive, the likely result is that they’ll soon be writing a wonderful senior thesis. Goodnight Moon led me to Georgetown, without a doubt. If only every child in the world had a bookshelf, and a parent to fill it…

Comments

  1. Right on! Or should I say "Read On" parents and kids, and teachers too! I do think reading aloud to my kindergartners does endear them to books and reading. The Chronicles of Narnia books were read aloud to you in second grade, and then you read them yourself in third grade. I think The Hobbit was probably fourth grade. Learning to read in first grade is common and not late at all. For some it is even later....it's a developmental thing. And goodnight to the old lady whispering hush.

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