I Shouldn’t Have to Say This

Reading RainbowWhen I was a teacher, I was perplexed when a student refused to check out books on our weekly trips to the library—until I learned that the books went home and were never read. I told her I would be glad to read them to her, but she refused. She had already learned that non-technological pursuits had less value than flashy apps. And even though some of these apps were “educational,” they couldn’t make up for the parent-child interaction that comes with reading together. This is a battle all parents of the twenty-first century are fighting. Or, rather, it’s a battle I wish we would all fight. Too many of us have already waved the white flag, assigning reading the status of optional.

This is something that’s hard to wrap my mind around, considering that reading is like breathing to me. I went through a short period during which I didn’t want to read on my own—and I’m sure it was due to learning to read and spending my energies on deciphering the language rather than taking in the story—but I got over that pretty quickly. When I started reading novels, I soon had no more books to read at home and then discovered the wonders of my elementary school’s library. I plowed through Beverly Cleary and Little Women and every book of mythology I could get my hands on. In middle school, my dad introduced me to Michael Crichton, and then I discovered the vast catalog of Agatha Christie titles. When I met my husband, I was on a Stephen King kick, and he soon started reading my books when I finished them. Over the years this evolved to Harry Potter and many others. Other couples may hire a babysitter and go on dates. We sit around and read and then bug each other to read the books we’ve just finished so we can talk about them.

Naturally, this has extended to our children. When our elder son was little, we read Go, Dog. Go! to him so much that he had the book completely memorized and would act out the scenes. There have been some nights recently when our activities have necessitated getting the kids to bed way past their usual bedtimes, and for the sake of sleep, we have foregone our usual reading-together-before-bed ritual. And let me tell you: the kids don’t like it. “Can we read [book of the moment]?” Peter will ask. And I’ll feel horrible for having to turn him down.

I was recently reading on a Friday night, and with absolutely no reason to get up early the next day, I kept going until past midnight, finishing the last 90 pages of the book. (For someone who gets up at 4:40 every weekday, that’s quite a feat!) Devouring a book because it’s too good to put down is an amazing feeling. Ordering the sequel on Amazon is a close second.

Unfortunately, many people labor under the mistaken belief that novels are only for “escape” or “fluff.” On the contrary: I’ve learned all kinds of things from my sojourns in fiction, from new vocabulary to customs unlike my own to truths I may not have pondered had they not been presented to me in a unique, fictional light. Not to mention that all writers should read simply for the exposure to another writer’s perspective. For every age, not just children, books provide an excellent avenue for learning and growth, and a great example for children is to see people to whom they look up reading.

When I learned my elder son was dyslexic, I was distressed, worrying that the child who loved to be read to would hate books once he had to read them on his own. And although he still struggles, he loves books—and there are wonderful apps out there to make books accessible to those who do have reading problems. There is absolutely no reason why everyone should not be able to enjoy books in some form or fashion. (Books aren’t available to everyone, you may argue. Click here to read a blog that addresses this very issue.)

I’m not saying that other activities are without merit. I’m also a baseball/musical theatre/piano/visual arts/LEGO/Marvel Universe mom. I pride myself on offering my kids multiple outlets for their talents and interests, but I believe I would be robbing them of a great opportunity if I didn’t share my love of books with them. I shouldn’t have to make this argument at all, yet so many people harbor the notion that reading is only for people with oodles of spare time or who have a nerdish personality. For example, if you saw a muscular dude reading a book in the park instead of engaging in some form of physical activity, would you be surprised? If yes, it’s because popular culture has created a stereotype for the typical “reader.” But it shouldn’t be that way. Books are for everyone.

Maybe it’s corny, but I think the Reading Rainbow theme song states it pretty well:

Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high.
Take a look, it’s in a book, a Reading Rainbow!
I can go anywhere.
Friends to know,
and ways to grow.
A Reading Rainbow!
I can be anything.
Take a look,
it’s in a book.
A Reading Rainbow.

Why Didn’t I Think of This Before?

My Books (some of them)

My Books (some of them)

If you’ve ever seen Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and you’re a book-oholic like I am, your dream house might include a library like the one in the Beast’s castle. You know the kind – book-filled shelves stretching into the stratosphere, complete with those rolling ladder thingies that are absolute necessities if you want reach the upper shelves.

Of course, my fantasy house doesn’t stop there. I want books everywhere. I’ve seen houses where the stairs are shelves with books underneath or where unconventionally-shaped bookcases are built into the walls and nooks of every room.

Since, however, reality is quite a different thing than my dreams, my books reside in my china cabinet (the china is in boxes who knows where), on top of my spinet piano, in a small, three-shelf corner bookcase in my room, and the cookbooks are above the cabinets in the kitchen (let’s be honest: they’re all over the kitchen). The only reason my five-year-old’s bookshelf still has room on it is because his little brother strews the board books throughout the house, so I can’t even claim eminent domain and stash my stuff there. If I decide to buy one more book for myself. . . well, I guess I haven’t put any knickknacks on top of the buffet for a reason.

Space isn’t the only problem. Believe me, I will find room, if I have to balance them on top of fan blades or do something less creative like stack them in the corners. I do have several books in “the cloud” (either Kindle or iBook editions), but I prefer to read physical books with actual pages (although I do publish online – but that’s for another blog). So recently, when I realized that I was going to finish Drums of Autumn (Outlander), the fourth book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, I just couldn’t stomach shelling out another thirty bucks on a book that I want but don’t need. (Read this post to see how much catching up I have to do to reach 2013’s reading goal.)

Now, some of you have already figured out the obvious solution, which saves both space and money, and you’ll think I’m an idiot for not coming to the same conclusion earlier: just check out the book from the library. Well, duh, why didn’t I think of that?

Time to ‘fess. The last time I checked out a book from a local public library was when I was fourteen. And yes, that was over half my life ago. It’s rather shameful, I admit. I mean, my dad worked in libraries as a teenager, my mother worked in our former church’s media center, and one of my favorite places to volunteer at my son’s school is in the library. So why the decade-plus hiatus?

When I was fourteen, I started reading really long books – thousand-plus pagers. They took longer to read than libraries’ allotted two-week borrowing period, and I wanted to spend my time reading them rather than going back to renew all the time. Plus, once I started earning a little spending money, I could afford my own books and immediately grew my collection. I went from bugging my dad to search the various libraries for new Agatha Christies once a week or so to buying almost every Stephen King title available. It also didn’t hurt that we lived near an awesome used bookstore. (Chamblin Bookmine rocks!) Lastly, whereas I couldn’t care less about many other material things, books are the key to my heart – I want to possess them. (My husband figured that one out pretty quickly.)

Now, I did spend quite a bit of time in my university’s library back in my college days, but I didn’t go for the fun of it. When you associate going to the library with study groups and research papers, it kind of loses its appeal.

Then, early in our marriage, my husband and I moved to a different county, thus making my poor, unused library card obsolete anyway. We lived about ten minutes from a very nice library – which was right over the county line. And these two counties do not share benefits. I could enter that library, sure. But check a book out? No way, Jose. The closest library within our own county was over twenty minutes away, and since I was out of the habit. . . Well, you get the idea.

After I had kids, I heard people talk about story times at the various libraries around town, but it never occurred to me to take them. I’m a busy mom, I work, and I am somewhat anti-social. If another mom had invited me, I probably would have considered it. But I should have gone anyway, regardless. I recently had to meet a friend during the week, and the most convenient time was just after story time. So I figured I’d tag along with her, and at least my younger son would enjoy it. Peter was the oldest kid there by far, but I was glad that he was entranced by all the books. Unfortunately, it was, yet again, a library in the wrong county. Peter sometimes checks out books from our church’s library, but after seeing the real thing, he begged me to get a card. We now live less than ten minutes away from a library with an excellent children’s department, so I finally broke down and went. Not only could Peter have access to far more than I could ever afford, but it was clear that if I wanted to read The Fiery Cross (Outlander), I would have to go to the library or dip into the diaper fund. Sorry, books. When you have a twenty-month-old, diapers win.

Hey, I could get used to this. Now Peter has a new reason to be excited to read. And the two-week deadline gives me new incentive to read, read, read.

But just to make sure, when I checked out Gabaldon’s next 900-plus page doorstop, I asked the librarian how my chances were of renewing it.

She looked at me, taking in the baby on one hip and the energetic five-year-old next to me. I’m sure she was thinking, Good luck finishing this in the next two months, lady. Then she smiled and said, “They’re good.”