Passing on the Joy of Reading

I have several ideas floating through my head and many more that are not. I haven’t written in awhile. Not because I have had a lack of ideas but because I am uncertain if any of my ideas are full and complete.

One recent development is I have been listening to LeVar Burton’s podcast and it has me thinking on my relationship with reading. Here I am a 38 year old man listening to someone read me stories. Someone that when I was a child I listened read me stories. I understand that is the entire point of the podcast. That it is made to appeal to people my age. People that grew up watching Reading Rainbow and watching Star Trek The Next Generation who are now avoid readers and lovers of knowledge, but there is still something surreal about the experience.

That isn’t my main thought. My main thought is on my children and how to cultivate in them a love of reading and collecting knowledge. LeVar Burton and Reading Rainbow was certainly a part of it, but it isn’t a greater part than my own mother reading to me. My mother who decided that when she read to me she would not just read Roald Dahl, Shel Silverstein, and other children’s authors but she would mix in Mark Twain, Jonathon Swift, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Even with all that I don’t know if that is what solidified my relationship with reading.

It clearly laid a base and I remember riding in the car on family vacations and reading the young readers versions of Frankenstein and Dracula and biographies of Madam Curie, Louis Pasteur, Florence Nightingale, and others. Then I remember growing older. Middle School halting that relationship with reading for a brief time.

There is a story I tell myself. That my love of reading came from a combination of getting in trouble and trying to avoid doing homework. In the eighth grade I found myself suspended from school for three days. My parents were understandably upset and took away my TV and video games, but what they didn’t take away were my books, and it was then that I dove in to the Stephen King novel The Eyes of the Dragon. I read that book and then It and Cujo and Needful Things. I spent that three day suspension finally falling in love with reading. It was like everything else that came before was a mere flirtation.

I continued as an avid reader after that because I discovered a simple truth. You weren’t going to get in trouble for reading. At least not with my parents or teachers. So instead of doing homework I read Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner. I remember ending up in trouble again assigned to Saturday School and instead of doing one bit of homework I sat there and read The Sun Also Rises. I do believe that this was a direct violation of the purpose of the punishment but no one seemed to care and I wasn’t about to tell them.

Then I went off to college, became an English Major and Poli Sci Minor and had to read something like seven books a week. I never complained and enjoyed it immensely. Now that I have children I do wonder how I can bestow upon them a love of reading, knowledge, and learning. Is it as simple as turning on old episodes of Reading Rainbow and letting LeVar Burton lay the groundwork for us combined with reading to them at night? Or do they need that true spark like I got when I was suspended from school? Or is it both?

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