If You're Reading This...
November 21, 2012
I was lucky enough to come from a family of readers.
Mom liked the long stories of Michener and the big family dramas - Centennial, The Thorn Birds, Gone with the Wind, Shogun. Dad gravitated to nonfiction, particularly the history of aviation and World War II. Stacks of National Geographic spilled around his office. Grandma Keller had a thesaurus hidden in the coffee table to help with her crossword puzzles and a bird guide in the side table to identify new arrivals outside the window. Grandpa Keck’s office was lined with glass-fronted lawyer’s bookcases that held handsome leather-bound classics, lovely to the hands, the nose, and the eyes.
I grew up knowing that words, written words, belonged to me. As devoted as I was (and am, to tell the truth) to Black Beauty, the warren of Watership Down, and all the myriad talking beasties, I knew they weren’t people, because people read. Books, magazines, and newspapers were a part of the human world and that was mine.
I never really got to like Michener, to Mom’s puzzlement, but she doesn’t quite understand my love of Terry Pratchett, George R. R. Martin, and China Mieville. My brother goes even further afield into the territory of Vonnegut and William Burroughs. The histories skipped him entirely, though he reads the occasional biography. I continue to push Simon Schama at him as a readable historian. Dad and I swap books: a steady stream of Winston Churchill and the Blitz met with Plantagenets, Crusades, and William Wallace. We talk books as regularly as movies or TV, more regularly than fashion or art. In a far-flung and diversely-opinionated group of people, the written word is the liveliest debate and the most universal subject.
We talk a lot about modeling the behavior of reading as an encouragement to kids, and it is true that young readers tend to be found in families that consider books in the bathroom just part of the décor. So if you are reading this, thank a teacher. But also remember the people - parents, grandparents, caretakers of all kinds - that you saw with a book in their hands, reading for the sheer pleasure of the words.
North Oak Branch