I grew up a reader. It’s not that my parents pushed me into it. I was raised way before the concept of reading to your child to make your child a reader came into vogue. No, what worked in my family was the idea that books were part of the very special privileges enjoyed by adults and that the only way I’d be able to enjoy those privileges was to grow up and learn how to read.
This was perhaps even more special in my home because my parents were the first literate generation on either side of my family. All my grandparents were immigrants and it’s clear from the yellowing signatures I have from their immigration papers that just writing their name was quite a chore.
The family always used to blame immigration officials for the confusion in the spelling of my mother’s maiden name. Growing up I was told that the name had different spellings because each person took the spelling given to them when they passed through immigration and that spelling depended on what the immigration official heard, or thought they heard, the person say.
But looking at Nono’s old passport, I realized the confusion started way before the family hit American shores. My grandfather spelled his name one way and the Italian government worker formally issuing the paperwork spelled it another way. The question remains as to who was right – the illiterate immigrant or the government official.
When I was in first grade, Sister Beatrice gave out candy to the student who could puzzle out new words in our readers. The day I figured out the word “counter” in our reading book I got a while milk bottle candy. It was obviously a turning point in my life or I wouldn’t remember it so well fifty years later. It might also explain the urge I have to eat while I read.
As I flip through the unbelievable number of channels available to me on TV today, I find myself more and more grateful that my parents made reading such a special pleasure for me. Because I am finding that despite the fact that I can flip to over a hundred channels at any given moment, I often find absolutely nothing that captures my interest on any of them. I mean seriously, how many reruns of the Cosby Show can any one person watch.
My idea of hell would be a place where there was nothing to read. This is why I always carry reading material with me. Whether it’s a doctor’s visit or on a plane trip, I always have enough reading material to last me through a stint on a deserted island.
I remember once finding myself in my car waiting for a friend with nothing to read. So I read my car’s manual. Five years after I bought it, I finally found out how to change the clock.
There are a lot of things in our world today that didn’t exist when I was growing up – things that vie for our attention and, most importantly, vie for our children’s attention. Video games, movies, DVD’s and the Internet with its chat rooms and instant messaging are just some. It’s not surprising that many children view reading for pleasure as archaic as a rotary dial phone or a percolating coffee pot.
But now that summer is approaching and the requirement to read placed on kids by their schools will ease up, I’d like to make a plea to all parents to consider reading as important a part of your children’s summer as camp or a job.
When I was growing up, my mother had her books stashed away on shelves and there was no doubt that they were very precious indeed. No child was allowed near them until they were old enough to appreciate them, value them and use them wisely. I longed to prove myself adult enough for that responsibility and so became an avid reader.
It is the one gift my mother gave me that has never tarnished or faded with age. May 2 will be the fourth anniversary of her death. I think of her every time I curl up in my easy chair with a book and realize once again that I’m finally responsible enough to have earned the right to hold a book in my hands and plunge into the depths of its wonders.
My grandparents never knew that privilege. What a waste it would be if our children didn’t either.