Saturday, June 6, 2009

Kids & Reading: Is the Prognosis All That Bad?

In the most recent newsletter from editor Moira Allen reminds us of something we often forget in all the hand-wringing regarding kids and reading.

"News flash: Most kids don't read!" 
(This newsletter isn't up on the website yet, so I can't link to it, but will when it's available.)

She goes on to jog our memories about how readers "were a rare breed" in our school days. Most kids preferred doing something else even in the days before computers and iPods and texting and all the other stuff that came after that major Boomer distraction, TV. Yet among the people I know, at least the women, most of them are now readers. They may not all be what you would call avid readers, and their tastes may reside at the opposite end of the spectrum from mine, but most take along a book to read while waiting in the doctor's office or while having their roots touched up. Most read at the beach or while their kids splash in the pool, and many need to read a few pages to relax at bedtime. 

Now for my confession, I was one of those kids who didn't read. Worse, I was one of those kids who fudged her book reports from the flyleaf, and I'd always pick the thickest, toughest book, like I thought I could fool someone.

I suspect that a love of reading, like cleaning up after ourselves and getting our work done on time, is something many of us acquire in adulthood, and then convince ourselves we did straight out of the womb. When we see our kids act irresponsibly, we swear up and down that when we were kids we saved our money, had our homework assignments done two days in advance, and never lost a textbook under the bed. And we all spent our summers reading Jane Eyre and Moby Dick, not because we had to, mind you, but because we wanted to. 

In the words of Stanley Kowalski, "Ha! Ha-ha."

I can tell you exactly when I began to take joy in reading. It was the summer following my freshman year of college, when I suddenly had the luxury to read whatever I wanted. Up until then, reading meant what everyone else told me I "had" to read.

Before I reached the age for summer reading lists, the women around me––my mother, a couple of aunts, and an older sister––were constantly forcing books down my throat. These were the books I absolutely had to read, because, of course, they loved them and therefore so should I. I remember a particularly excruciating summer when they forced me to slog through the "Little Maid" books. This was a series similar to today's American Girl Series, in which the "Little Maid" always played an important role in some event in American History, like waking Paul Revere from a drunken stupor before his ride. Okay, I don't think it was exactly that way––that I would have actually enjoyed––but the Little Maid figured somewhere in there with Paul. (Even as  kid I was a stickler for realism.)

This idea of being forced to read certain books, I suspect, has a lot more to do with why most kids don't read than all the distractions we like to blame. Frank Wilson, former Books Editor at the Inquirer, had some interesting thoughts in an interview I did last year for Roses & Thorns.

They assign books that are widely regarded as “great,” “classics,” “masterpieces.” And the books in question usually are all of those things. That doesn’t mean they’re easy to read, though, and if they’re hard to read, they are not only not going get people hooked on reading, they are going to turn people off on reading. 

I suspect one reason Catcher in the Rye makes so many lists of great books is that it is the first––and for many possibly the only––assigned reading they can actually identify with.

To this day, I hate reading books because I have to. I always think twice before taking on a book for review. I never read a bestseller while it remains on the list. I'll never take part in "One City One Book," and nothing will drive me from a book faster than having Oprah recommend it.

So maybe it's time to lighten up on this whole kids and reading thing. If they are like me, and my daughter after me, once the pressure is off they will "luv 2 read A3" (If you're too "bookish" to know the jargon, Look it up.)

1 comment:

Makita Jazzqueen said...

I agree. I think that when people tell you to do something you usually end up doing exactly the opposite, and when they don't tell you anything, that's when you start to do stuff by yourself.

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