Tuesday, November 26, 2013

How To Read

When I was about six or seven years old, I went to my reading coach (my big sister, Anne), and asked her advice. I wanted to read big books – chapter books, but it seemed a daunting task. Never one to sugar-coat, she gave it to me straight.

“You have to just read every second you can – when you are waiting for something, in the car, before dinner and after. Carry your book with you and just read anytime you can.”

Her advice did not end with the how. She also suggested the first book I should read. “Little House in the Big Woods.” I loved the image of the children all falling asleep on one big bed when the family gathered for Christmas, and the detailed renderings of life, seen through the eyes of a small child. I loved the illustration and the cover of Laura holding her doll.

I jumped in. It worked, and I was hooked. I read and read and read – in the car, under my covers, while walking to school. I read while others were in conversation all around me. I read every one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beautiful and quintessentially American books.

I wonder, now, if I would have been able to read so deeply in today’s environment, with so many distractions. I am prone to them myself, reading much less now than I used to. Sometimes I feel guilty when reading – as if I am wasting time and need to sneak off to read. I can't seem to find all those little moments, or if I do, there is a task that must fill it. 

In the summer, when we travel to my husband’s family in Greece, I spend time planning the books I will bring, and generally alternate – serious, light, serious, light. And I fall back into that all-consuming pleasure, that reverie of reading from which nothing can rouse me.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Listening to Books

 For several years, I drove my son to school about twenty minutes away. Our drives started when he was about eleven years old and ended this year when, at sixteen, he returned to the local public school.

The drives were a nervous time for him, during which his nameless dread of school would build. We figured early on that a distraction was needed. Hence our discovery of Books-on-tape. This was magic.

We began with Harry Potter, of course, and if you haven’t listened to Jim Dale with his manifold voices, you have missed out on something special. Each character came alive with his delicious skill, declaiming each scene drawn to perfection with J.K. Rowling’s vivid prose. Those books became our staple, and could fill in any time we finished one book without another in the wings.

I began haunting the audio book section of the bookstores and libraries. Series, as always, were most enticing, although it drove us crazy to discover a new series and have to wait months and months between installments.

From Rick Riordan we heard modern versions of the Greek myths through the eyes of Percy Jackson and, in time, discovered the gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt with the long-suffering Carter Kane and his annoying little sister Sadie (who defines British “spunk”).

Over time we developed an ear and became quite critical of the actors chosen to read books. We actually stopped listening to a couple of books because the actors just seemed so uninterested in the books themselves.

Occasionally my son would have the hard copy of a book and read it in between listening – during school reading times, for example.
And sometimes I became so involved with the story that I would listen ahead while he was in school. This was a tricky activity, as I had to be able to put the tape back to the exact point at which we had stopped together. I’m ashamed to admit that when we began the Hunger Games trilogy I secretly bought the books and read all three in one big, clandestine gulp.

It was interesting to me as a parent that my son was equally interested in dark YA novels as light middle grades. I often worried that some of the sadder scenes would increase the anxiety, but they didn’t. Once or twice, though, getting out of the car was more difficult because something exciting was happening.

Those twenty-minute blocks of time together are among my favorites during some tough years. Unique and gratifying, they gave us a gift of magic, of other worlds to take us out of our own and fly away.