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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Love of Reading

Like most parents, I was eager for my son to learn to read. Ringing in my head were the stories from both my parents and my in-laws about the age at which myself and my husband had learned to read. My sister-in-law regaled us with tales about how her daughter--only a year older than our son--had taken to reading like a cat to catnip.

Our son, however, was holding out. He insisted that he wasn't going to learn to read until he was seven. Given that the lad is as strong-willed as both his parents put together, there didn't seem much that we could do about this and we didn't want to turn reading into a source of argument or heartache.

So we did what parents do. We read to him nightly, we let him see us reading, and we filled his room with books that matched his interests.

But while we said nothing further to him, I still worried. What would happen if our son didn't like to read? What would life be like without reading as a primary source of entertainment? How would our son learn about the world around him if he couldn't read or veiwed it as an arduous chore? How would he stretch his imagination and learn to empathize with others?

It was beyond my ability to imagine life without reading. I can't remember ever not being able to read and books were often my best friends throughout childhood. When I go back now and read the books of my youth, it is like being reunited with an old friend--a friend who has memories of me as well as my having memories of it.

Growing up, I remember wondering whether it would be possible to find a career in which I could do nothing but read. In that way, I have indeed been richly blessed. Working as a copy editor on a busy daily news desk, it was part of my duty to read everything that came across the wire and determine whether it was important enough to get into the paper. Later, as an editor, I got to read every day and try to make what I was reading more useful for other readers. In a way, it's been a dream of a career.

Now, for the past six years, I've been a book reviewer, once again taking deep pleasure in devouring books of all sorts. If left to my own devices, I'm likely to be curled up with a historical mystery, juvenile fiction, or fantasy novels. Thankfully, I've not been left to my own devices and instead I am reading a wide variety of books in order to review them. This past summer brought some particularly delicious reads. Kim Edwards' The Memory Keeper's Daughter was completely stunning. I was almost too in awe of her to interview her for Book Help Web. Then Kevin Clash's My Life as a Furry Red Monster was a delightfully optimistic read--one that bolstered my spirits while opening a window onto a segment of the performing arts world that I knew only a little about. Then I ended the summer with the wry, humorous work of Ken Jennings: Brainiac, a memoir that was far funnier than I was expecting it to be. (And if you check back later this month, we'll be running an interview with him as well.)

Nearly 16 years ago, I decided I didn't want nor need a television. It's not that I thought television was evil or that I didn't enjoy much of the programming on it. But I saw it as a time robber--something that took time away from playing games with friends, spending precious moments with my husband, or curling up with my beloved books.

My husband is as avid a reader as I am, indeed, he reads books much faster than I do and I can polish off a novel in a single evening's reading if the novel is compelling enough (certainly once I started, I wasn't able to put down either The Memory Keeper's Daughter or Michael Connelly's Echo Park until I'd turned the last page).

So how was it that our son could resist reading?

Well, I needn't have worried. He was true to his word and started reading after he turned seven. A year and a half later, he's polishing off Harry Potter and Peter and the Star Catchers novels and begging for more. He was even able to read to me from Macbeth and Twelfth Night.

And so I'm at ease, knowing that whatever else happens in his life, he'll always have the companionship of books to act as a compass and a friend.

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