Thursday, July 14, 2011

Summer Reading

Here's another confession, that's not really my confession: my kids don't like to read. My younger son likes to read more than the teenager, but that's not really a fair comparison. It would be an absurd comparison, like This tree likes being a tree more than that rock likes being a tree.

Both of us read a lot as kids, and as teenagers. While I did read some literature, like David Copperfield, I also read some contemporary stuff -- Bright Lights, Big City and Less than Zero -- and I didn't limit it to anything of merit. I also read my fair share of fantasy books.

In contrast, my eight-year-old really likes Calvin and Hobbes. The teenager likes soda and loitering.

I still read, but not as much as I'd like to. It's summer, and part of summer for me means long days of nothing but reading. Reading is a luxury. When I've said this to college students, who have several books to read at once, they look at me like I have two heads.

How to get younger kids to read? I've heard that you're supposed to "instill" a love of reading in your children. We read a lot to them, as babies, and still, to the younger son.

However, here's what I know about my children: they respond to humor, irony and sarcasm, and fun. They do not respond well to anything that feels like propaganda. Like this:

We love to read! Reading is the best thing ever!
You can insert other items to propagandize here, like "vegetables," "spelt," or "running."

They never have, and they never will. I cannot make them believe it with the tone of my voice. They see right through it, and have, since they were very, very little. (Like, under two.) Maybe this makes me a failure, and maybe it makes them wisely skeptical, and unlikely to fall prey to other forms of persuasion.

I try to lead by example, but even that is light. Mostly, I do what I love, along side them, without prodding or preaching. I write, and I read, and I do a lot of laundry and cleaning. They do none of these things. Yet.

Are there things we love that have rubbed off on them? Sure. The teenager is currently playing both Guided by Voices and Blind Melon on his guitar. He loves Sublime and Red Hot Chili Peppers, and still, when he's practicing, goes back to Driver 8.

The eight-year-old is a wacko. He has the weirdest sense of humor I've ever witnessed. (See recent tweet about drawing facial hair with invisible ink.) He also values quiet, and can entertain himself (with imagination) for hours. I haven't met many other kids the same age who can do quite the same.

With reading, my gut tells me that once they fall into it, they'll be in it. Once they really discover what they'll get from reading, they'll be hungry for more. Of course, they will have to discover this on their own, and not by my hand, because that will make it absolutely uncool. But mostly, I want them to think hard and carefully, about whatever it is that motivates them in this moment. I want them to love things. Even if they're not the same things I love.

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