The Dangerous Pleasures of Reading

I am amazed, bemused and baffled by those programs they keep coming up with — like “Reading is FUNdamental!” — trying to tempt children to read. “Try sugar! You might LIKE the way it tastes!” makes about as much sense. I’m sorry, but some things just don’t need a catchy slogan. Reading, like sugar, is one of those self-evident and addicting pleasures.

And it can be just as harmful. You don’t hear that talked about so much. Everyone is so anxious for children to read, those of us who were helpless junkies from the day we first encountered Pat The Bunny or Goodnight Moon were actually encouraged to wallow in our addiction. We were held up as models for other children — children doubtless far more active and healthy than we were. We sat through recess with our noses in books. I walked home from school holding a book in front of my face, navigating the streets with my peripheral vision. And, once home, flopped on my stomach on my bed to continue reading. And reading. And reading.

Now that I am an adult, subject to an adult’s perspective on the company of little children, I wonder whether encouraging a child to read is partly self-interest on the adults’ part. I must have been remarkably easy to quiet. I was never bored at my parents’ parties or dinners or meetings or other dull events to which I was dragged at a tender age. I brought books. All I needed was an out-of-the-way corner with some light, and I no longer cared how dull the meeting was, or how far over my head the conversation. I was also pretty easy to buy presents for. “What do you want for your birthday?” “Books!” “What do you want for Christmas?” “Books!” “What should I bring you from Canada?” “Books!”

Granted, if there is such a thing as a healthy addiction, reading might be it. My point is, there is probably no such thing as a healthy addiction. Every addiction has the power to steal important chunks of your life, and reading is no exception. A good book removes you from reality just as effectively as any drug — and even has a hangover effect. If I am in the middle of a good book, do not be deceived by the fact that said book is not in my hand at the moment. I am not with you. I hear you with only half an ear. Watch carefully, and you will catch me walking into furniture or putting the milk in the cupboard and the cereal in the refrigerator. Because if I’m in the middle of a good book, I do not wholly emerge until I finish the last page. And if it’s a really good book, sometimes not for days after that.

Seriously, there are entire weeks when I shouldn’t be allowed to drive.

I was given a Kindle for my birthday. Look out.

15 thoughts on “The Dangerous Pleasures of Reading

  1. Yes. Yes! You have described my childhood so perfectly, it’s like you were there. Were you, lurking about somewhere, and I just never saw you because I always had a book in front of my face?

    My daughter is six, and although she has the ability to read, it’s still a bit of work for her, and she has little interest in practicing to make reading easier. She would just rather be swimming or running around outside or making-believe she is a zookeeper or a dancer or a waterbender. And that’s fine, all those things are wholesome, educational activities for a child to be doing. But as someone who cannot remember not being able to read, whose favorite way to spend a day was with my head stuck in a series of books, her resistance to reading is foreign and puzzling to me.

    • Oh, heavens, I don’t know whether to congratulate you (for producing such a healthy child) or offer my condolences! LOL! I wonder if she’ll pick up a taste for it as the books get more interesting? Not much on offer at the first or second grade level … still, as you say, she’s already in a completely different place than we were at her age. Does she like being read to? My mother and sisters touched the words with their fingertips as they read to me when I was tiny, thinking that would help me learn. Maybe it did! Sounds like she has an excellent fantasy life going on, so in that sense she is surely cast from your mold.🙂

      I swear, you and I are twins separated at birth.

      • Yes, she LOVES to be read to, and have stories told to her, and to make up stories herself. She also loves movies, and TV shows with a strong narrative element, like “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” and “Chuck” and “Doctor Who.” She has a vivid imagination and an impressive vocabulary, so a lack of reading certainly isn’t hurting her in those areas.

        I think she is just waiting till reading is something that comes more easily to her before she jumps in with both feet. I suspect this because I am the same way when it comes to new things. I’m proud enough that I don’t like doing something I’m not good at in front of other people!🙂 So I guess on some level I do understand her apparent lack of interest in reading.

        I’m beginning to agree with your twins-separated-at-birth theory.

      • Yeah, we even have a Schuyler connection.

        Your daughter looks joyous and poised and very comfortable in her own skin. Which is just another way of saying she looks well-mothered! I bet you’re right, and at whatever point her reading gene kicks in, you’ll have a great time introducing her to all your old favorites!

  2. I was one of those active kids who played morning until night. I lived across the street from the elementary school and it was opened with a coach and activities all summer long. It was terrific. During the hottest part of the day, I did go into the library to read. Reading was always easy for me, although I was never an avid reader.

    I became obsessed with reading the newspaper everyday, though–especially Dear Abby and the Entertainment section–loved that–even at a young age, since it was always sitting at the kitchen table, and I had book club books. I remember not necessarily liking a set of mystery books an aunt gave to me. I preferred biographies, and I even went through a spell where I read mythology.

    For the most part, my days were filled with all things exercise: biking, running around, swimming, kickball, “the rings”, etc., and I suffer now because I don’t do nearly enough in that regard–my body needs exercise.

    But I prefer to read!! Go figure:-/

    • That is so interesting! In my case, the preferences were set early and never changed. My body never expects exercise because it’s had it so rarely. LOL

    • Yeah, forget the ink and paper and cover art and all that jazz … it needs STICKS! Now I know what was missing. ::slaps forehead::

  3. This is so, so, so me. In fact, the last time I walked home with my nose in a book was… A couple weeks ago? And lemme tell you, the got some strange looks. Or so I assume – I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention.

    • Yep. You either don’t see the looks, or – worse – you’re so far gone, you don’t care. Thanks to smartphones, however, various legislatures are making noises about ticketing “distracted walkers.” Something tells me that category of scofflaw is going to include us.😦

  4. Not to worry, but “…putting the milk in the cupboard and the cereal in the refrigerator…” are also signs of early Alzheimer’s disease.

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