Saturday, October 24, 2009

How Did You Learn to Read for Fun?

by Scott D. Parker

If you’re here at this blog, you are a reader. Primarily you like crime and mystery fiction since that’s the theme of our littler experiment. Someday in the past, however, either distant or recent, you started to read for fun.

Don’t get me wrong: we all have to learn to read. It’s part of our fundamental education. All throughout our primary education experience, we are assigned books to read, some of which are not good. Even the good ones have their spirits stripped away by over analyticals teachers. The experience can be so traumatic for some students that they never read for fun once they leave school. For everyone else, somewhere along the way, something clicked in our minds: Hey, this reading thing is fun.

Chances are, the thing that helped this reading realization click into place was a person. For students, it might have been a teacher who slips an eager young person a favorite book “off the official school reading list.” For adults who stopped reading when they graduated from high school, it might have been a co-worker who always carried a book and shared the joys of reading. Still others might be intrigued by the Harry Potter or Twilight phenomena and decided to try it out. For me, and, likely, many of you, our reading realization started at home.

My parents are readers. Always have been. Mom reads mysteries; not the violent, gory ones like Thomas Harris or noir gems of James M. Cain but the traditional stories of Agatha Christie, Nevada Barr, and Sue Grafton. Dad reads two main genres: westerns and science fiction. Every night, they wind down with books. If Mom picked me up from school, she’d have a paperback with her. On camping trips, Dad would make sure to bring along a couple of books. As I grew up, we’d always visit bookstores. The fun part of those days was when I saw one of them with a book in their hands. If they found a book, I’d get one, too.

You know what the best part of the education was? Their example. They didn’t harangue me to read, Read, READ in order to pass an exam in school. There wasn’t homework every night that required me to read and answer questions on worksheets. There weren’t standardized tests that forced reading to be quantifiable. We even got to read some books (To Kill a Mockingbird; The Hound of the Baskervilles) that were honest to goodness enjoyable.

As of today, I’m the father of an eight-year-old (where did THAT time go?) and I’m doing my best to show him that reading is fun. My wife is, too. We read a lot to him and he’s starting to read by himself. He also writes and illustrates his own books. He’s done about a dozen or more, way more than me. Hmm, maybe he learned the lesson too well.

How did you become a reader and what do you do to spread the joy of reading?


Unknown said...

Without seeking sympathy - a less than ideal childhood. Books were an escape. all of my pocket money went on batteries - for my torch, so I could read under the covers. Anyone else do that?

Unknown said...

My parents read to me all the time when I was too young to read myself. My mother told me that when my father came home in the afternoon, I'd grab a book and run to him, saying, "'ead Mama Goose!" I had the book memorized and could say the lines for each page. They'd also read the comic strips to me on Sundays, and I learned to read those a little bit before I started to school. So reading was fun for me from the git-go.

Chris said...

Honestly, I can't remember. My mom was always reading, so I'm sure that's big part of it. Dad isn't a reader; the only thing I ever remember seeing him read were Chilton's Repair Manuals and the JC Whitney catalog.

I started out with comics and moved into stuff like Tarzan and Conan. Dad used to bring me comics all the time. I can remember going to the store with a dollar, getting a comic and a bag of chips and crashing out in the weeds next to the irrigation ditch and just getting lost.

Those people who don't read, I don't know; I hope they have something else they do that brings them so much any time, any where pleasure!

Barbara Martin said...

My mother was a teacher, so naturally there were always books during my childhood years. A great aunt in England would send books every Christmas, which were quite the treat.

Later in my teens, I would purchase pocket books that I wanted to read as the library didn't have them.

John McFetridge said...

I came to reading late and I still don't read all that many books.

When I was around 12 I started delivering the morning paper and after a while I started reading it. First the sports section, Montreal had some great sportswriters in the 70's, then the rest of the paper.

But I never had any very good teachers and my parents didn't read all that much (I am the youngest and by the time I came along, well, it wasn't good timing).

And very few books that I did try to read - that were assigned in school or that I picked up on my own - ever rang true to me. I was never interested in superheroes or fantasy stories. I don't know why not.

But eventually I did find Hemingway - I think one of those sportswriters said something about the short story, "Fifty Grand," and from there I found the Nick Adams stories.

From Hemingway it was an easy step to Elmore Leonard and finally I found books that were about people just like the ones I knew.

Still, I do need to read more.

Dana King said...

I've been a reader as long as I can remember. I've gone through phases as my tastes changed--read nothing but non-fiction for several years--but I can't remember too many times where I didn't have a book going.

My mother is an avid reader of crime fiction; my dad doesn't read as much, mostly the paper and magazines, some non-fiction. My maternal grandfather was a voracious reader, so maybe I just got the gene.

My daughter has also always been a reader. When she's not overwhelmed with school reading, she always has something going. I guess it runs in the family.

RDJ said...

I was one of six people living in a one-bedroom apartment when I first began going to the library on a regular basis. It offered a place to go where I wouldn't be bothered, and the books offered an escape. I don't recall being influenced one way or another by anybody in my life.

In fact, I often based book reports on cover copy and films -- if available -- so I wouldn't have to read the books assigned, as I didn't want school to cut into my reading.

Chris said...

I went to a panel today at the Montana Festival of the Book, which happens every year where I live here in Missoula, MT.

Anyway, the panel I went to was an interview with George Pelecanos and David Simon about The Wire. Pelecanos said he was more inspired to be a writer by watching movies, which is something he thinks most writers who come from the same place are a bit loathe to admit. He said he didn't start reading books until he was in college. I just thought that was interesting.

It was a great panel. Thursday was a panel that was a tribute to James Crumley (who lived in Missoula), with Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman and James Grady. That one was entertaining and very inspiring.

Mike Dennis said...

Quite simply, my mother read to me.

Every single night, she would read me to sleep, transporting me to distant lands and long-ago times.

This fired my very, very young imagination, stoking in me the desire to visit more such places, to meet more such people, to let my mind roam free, in awe of this new world that had opened up to me. I looked forward to going to bed every night, so she would take me there.

I only regret that she didn't live long enough to share my joy in having one of my novels picked up by a publisher.

Thanks, Mom. And may you rest in peace.

Kieran Shea said...

I was leveled for three months with what turned out to be acute mononucleosis and could barely lift my head. Thankfully my folks refused to set up a TV in my room. I read. A lot. Truly a watershed for me.

James Reasoner said...

There were always some books around my house when I was growing up, but neither of my parents were big readers until late in life. I do remember that my dad would usually read the comics in the Sunday newspaper to me. But when I was six years old, my teenage sister took me to the bookmobile, which came out to our little town every Saturday from the public library in the county seat, and that was when everything changed for me, as soon as I stepped into it and saw all those books.

Steve Weddle said...

When I was 12, my mom gave me CATCHER IN THE RYE to read. I was hooked.

That was the right book at the right time. I don't know if that book works for boys and girls. I've been told that WUTHERING HEIGHTS is the perfect book for girls of that age. I'm not sure WH is perfect for anything except lining the birdcage. (If you're going to read a Bronte, read Anne. She's great.)

Anyway, I think it's key to catch the right book at the right time. When I hit mid-teens I was reading Harry Harrison, Steve Brust, and Douglas Adams. Again, perfect timing.

Paul D Brazill said...

Comics for me. Especially th lurid American ones. A great escape from a grim childhood. Then Treasue Island, sherlock Holmes: Ripping Yarns!