I pour a cup of coffee and prepare to immerse myself in a library book—until Joel wanders by. Reading is not his idea of entertainment, so he doesn’t understand my inability to concentrate on a book while carrying on a conversation about his missing socks.
Though his teachers taught him to read, they were unable to inspire him to love doing so. And that’s OK.
During my career, I worked with various committees on curricular goals for literacy. Frequently we had heated discussions about an objective often found in such documents: “Students will read for pleasure.”
I remember a stern fellow who taught middle school arguing against the inclusion of such a goal in a literature curriculum: “Only English teachers would think everyone should love reading. What’s wrong with learning to read so you possess a necessary skill? Math teachers don’t think their students should solve equations for pleasure.”
We’re told that when children see their parents read for pleasure, they’ll choose to do the same. Yet, when teaching, I often heard parents say, “I don’t understand why my child doesn’t like to read. I read all the time.”
I understand their lament.
Capable readers, my grandchildren don’t turn to books for entertainment. When they were toddlers, I managed to capture their attention with picture books and word games, but as they entered school, their interest warped to math. When they asked me to quiz them on math problems; I gamely asked, “What’s 42 minus 16?” and praised the correct response — when I knew it.
I wasn’t thrilled with this game. Their grandfather, a former math teacher, was: “Did you hear how she broke that problem into groups of tens and ones to solve it?”
Whoopee. But then, this is a man who makes up and solves word problems about distance, speed, and mileage for entertainment when we travel.
When discouraged, I’d go in search of Walker, a grandchild I managed to influence beyond the early years. He visited us in Craig when he was three. He and I dragged picture books off a shelf, chose the best — though I never did understand his toddler’s criteria — and I read them to him every time he asked.
I heard somewhere that little ones like to be read to because of the physical closeness and undivided attention they enjoy. But this tyke seemed to find the same pleasure in interesting words used well that I did. The book he chose most often was The Jabberwocky about a creature “with eyes of flame,” that came “whiffling through the tulgy woods and burbled as it came.”
We read together until age and computer games diverted his attention; but we continue to talk about books now and then.
Though I read for pleasure, I never look askance at those who don’t — I love and respect too many of them. But I enjoyed an interview with George Foremen, two-time world heavyweight champion, in the AARP Bulletin of October 2014.
The interviewer asked, “What makes big ol’ George Foreman weep?”
Foreman replied, “A good book. Writers make me cry. I love reading.”
So do I, George, so do I.