Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Where did your reading come from?

For me, it was my parents. They were readers, and teachers, and of course they read to us kids. (I loved the Little Golden Books, and Horton Hears a Who, and picture books. I wish I still had some of those books, on a shelf somewhere. Someday, perhaps.)

And they took us to the library, and let us bring home a big bunch of books every time. But my reading took off when I started reading comics.

Like Stephen Krashen, and Alexie Sherman, and probably millions of other people, I got hooked on comic books when I was small. That's what I wanted to read; that's what was fun. We had piles of old comics (Kid Colt, Sgt. Rock, Lil Hot Stuff, Donald Duck, Superman, Fantastic Four) that had been handed down from my oldest siblings. Lots of them were ripped or had no cover, but that didn't hurt anything. My closer-in-age brothers and I would lay on our beds in the summer, reading the same stacks of comics for the tenth time, or the hundredth time. When a neighbor kid gave us a bunch of his old comics, it was like finding treasure.

I found science fiction in elementary school, and that was a whole 'nother world. Clifford Simak blew me away. "The pastoralist of science fiction" remains my all-time favorite writer. The first time I came home from the public library with half a dozen science fiction books, I didn't realize until I started reading them that three of the books I had picked were by Simak. Over the years, I read about thirty of his books, enjoying all of them, loving several. That's one writer I wish I could have met...

Finding The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (seventh grade?) convinced me I was a fantasy reader more than a science fiction reader, but where do you go after Tolkien? I struggled through The Worm Ouroboros, which was amazing in its own way, but not as transporting as Middle Earth; Terry Brooks' Sword of Shannara was close (though I didn't like it as an adult, alas); Stephen R. Donaldson, with The Chronicles of Lord Thomas Covenant, Unbeliever, was closer; and then finally Guy Gavriel Kay seemed to be writing the Real Thing, the Transcendent Fantasy. His writing blew me away in college, and, in my opinion, surpassed Tolkien--but I wouldn't argue the point. His fantasy was as vibrant and colorful and inspiring as Middle Earth, but his characters were (are) more real, more possible, and their emotions more affecting.

Anyway, that's my opinion.

Since then, my reading has branched in many directions. Non-fiction of many types; mysteries; mostly-forgotten 19th Century novels only available on Project Gutenberg. Like most reading adults, my tastes have evolved, and grown. But reading has continued to be a great pleasure. It has filled me with the sense that life is full of promise and adventure and excitement.

As a teacher, I want that same experience, or something similar, for my students.

There has always been a strand of thought, particularly in schools, that says that reading is good medicine (I don't disagree) and that you should read in order to grow. Good enough so far. But they say that easy is bad; fun is unnecessary; harder is better.

There I disagree.

What pushed my reading at every age was a quest for what I enjoyed most at that moment. I wasn't looking for a morally superior book, an appropriately difficult book to make me a better person. I never checked lexile levels, or word count, before I chose a book. I never looked at a prescriptive reading list. I was reading what was fun. And like everyone who reads, I got better. And then better again.

As a reader, and a teacher, I want young people to have the same chance I did--to find what they love, to find what moves them, to find what makes them want to tell someone else about the cool book/comic/story/graphic novel they just read. I'm okay pushing Shakespeare on reluctant readers--but we shouldn't be pushing all the time. If a kid thinks books are a drag, Ethan Frome isn't going to change his mind.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian might change his mind, though. The much-maligned Twilight might. The derided Goosebumps might. The still-relevant, still-loved Outsiders might.

I would rather have them reading comics than ignoring Hawthorne. (I like The Scarlet Letter--but I'm not a struggling high school student.) I would rather--much rather--have them reading Harry Potter than seething through Silas Marner.

I want reading to be like a trip to Disneyland, not like a visit to the wallpaper store.

1 comment:

  1. And what do you do with the child who insists that NO books interest him? I am firmly convinced that there are books for everybody - and often I am successful in recommending something for their free-reading that they enjoy - but sometimes my tastes are so far from theirs that I can't come up with anything, and they don't want to look.

    I have had a hell of a lot of luck with Part-time Indian, though.