I don't remember being an avid reader when I was a kid. I wasn't opposed to reading but given the choice between watching TV or reading a book, I'm sure I picked watching TV every time. I mean, why would I sit quietly and read when I could watch Michelangelo tear into a cheese pizza while kicking Beebop in the neck?
That being said, I do have good memories of reading when I was a kid.
(1) Mom or Dad reading the Little Critters books. I swore I owned every single Little Critters book ever written. Of course, I was wrong but I did have a lot of them. I loved them and I loved my parents reading me the stories of Little Critter and Little Sister.
(2) The Pizza Hut BOOK IT program. Oh, how I loved the Pizza Hut BOOK IT program. For simply reading a few short books over the summer I got to indulge in my favorite past time, eating, for free. I'd collect my stickers on my BOOK IT button and when the button was full, saunter down to the local Pizza Hut to collect my prize of a free personal pan pizza. Yes, I know that Pizza Hut pizza sucks. And yes, I also know that giving food as a reward can lead to obesity (have you seen my other blog posts and know the real reason why I'm here?) but I still have fond memories of winning that pizza.
(3) Reading Rainbow. I can't remember when I started watching Reading Rainbow. I don't really remember watching it as a young kid but I do remember watching it when I was a teenager. You see, I'm a huge fan of Star Trek, The Next Generation. I'd take over the TV in my parents bedroom at 10pm and tune in to DC20 to see what kind of hi-jinks the crew of NCC 1701-D would be getting into that week. My second favorite character, behind Captain Jean-Luc Picard of course (I invited Patrick Stewart to my Boy Scout Eagle Scout Court of Honor when I was 15), was Lt. Commander Geordie La Forge as portrayed by the venerable Levar Burton.
Then, as now, I loved to learn about the actors involved in the TV shows and movies I liked so I did some research and found La Forge hosted a kids show called Reading Rainbow. It was loads of fun, encouraging young kids to read and to explore the world. I can't point to a particular episode or a particular book from Reading Rainbow. All I remember are the feelings of happiness and joy I had while watching Kunta explore the world through books and the eyes of children.
A little over a year ago, thanks to the wonderful(?) world of social media, I learned that Levar Burton initiated a Kickstarter campaign to bring Reading Rainbow back to the world. I didn't hesitate to contribute a modest amount ($50) and was excited to be able to participate in a noble cause for a noble cat. Turns out that I'm not the only one that loved Reading Rainbow as it went on to be one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns of all time. This is the part where I should provide you stats as to how much was raised and provide a link to the video Levar Burton posted thanking all the contributors but I'm not going to do that. You know why? Because sometimes you have to do some work for yourself in this big cruel world, so take a few minutes and Ask Jeeves.
With my help (thank you, thank you) Reading Rainbow is back online and available on Netflix. The current generation of kids can learn the joys of reading from the man himself, Levar Burton. Take a look, its in a book, a Reading Rainbow.
In high school I was turned off to reading. Not because I didn't want to read but because I was told what I had to read and that I had to analyze every little detail of every little aspect of every little sentence on every little page. It drove me crazy. Not every single work worth reading has some deeper meaning. Yes, I understand that literature can include a bit of interpretation and perhaps try to relate a deeper moral philosophy. I just wished my AP English Teacher would concede that sometimes a book is just a book. It might be funny, it might be scary, it might be exciting, it might be sad but it doesn't always have to have two or three meanings. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
During and after college, I finally had and have the opportunity to read what I like and I discovered I like to read lots different things. Not only that, I found that I love books. I'll give you some of my specific book recommendations a little later on but I wanted to write for a moment on the idea of loving books. The older I got the more I wanted to have a library in my house. I pictured the ladder on wheels rolling around a room with shelf after shelf of books. I envisioned mahogany tables with ancient manuscripts being analyzed by an older Wesley sitting comfortably in an over sized leather chair . Of course this is ridiculous because I live in the real world and not a Dickensian novel. So when Rizzo and I bought our house we decided to turn one of the rooms into a more real-life library. Our library includes shelves full of our favorite books and big chairs for settling in to read. Not pictured is the artwork on the walls and the couch against the back wall. We created a space to sit down, have a cup of tea, and read a good book. It may not be the massive room that smells of ancient books from my vision and I don't spend nearly as much time as I should in this room but it is far and away my favorite room in our home.
To wrap up what is quickly becoming my longest blog post thus far I wanted to give just a couple of examples of my favorite reading materials. I'm not going to give you a in depth analysis of each book or even an extended description of the book. If you want to know more, read them. I just want to give a few sentences of each and why I love the book.
The Story of B by Daniel Quinn on the surface tells the story of a Catholic priest who is charged with following a "preacher" through Europe to determine if this "preacher" is the Antichrist. The real purpose of the novel is to challenge the readers perspective on our society and our culture. I feel like reading this book really opened my mind to new ideas and perspectives of the world. Quinn asks that the reader consider how each person can "change the world" without being preachy (ironically since the story is about a priest). He combines a linear story-telling style with texts from speeches given by the titular B to provide an alternative prospective on history and our culture. I know what your thinking? Didn't this guy just write about how sometimes a book is just a book and doesn't have to have some deeper meaning? I did just write that and I stick to it. The preceding is just my perspective. If you have read Story of B and didn't have the same interpretation or didn't even find the book anything other than and interesting story, then good on you. I'm not offended.
John Adams by David McCullough is a wild romp of three Amish teens exploring drugs, sex, and rock-n-roll during rumspringa in 1980s New York City. OK you caught me. That was just a joke. John Adams is a biography of our fifth President, Woodrow Wilson. Not right either? OK you caught me again. John Adams by David McCullough doesn't bury the lead in the title. This is a biography of one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, first Vice-President of the U.S., and second President of the United States, John Adams. I'm a big history nerd especially when it comes to the colonial period before the American Revolution and US History through the Civil War. I love reading everything I can find about this period and the people who built the foundation of our nation. David McCullough writes beautifully and simply about the life of John Adams and the role he played in building the United States. I especially loved learning of Adams relationship with his wife, Abigail, and the mutual love and respect John and Abigail had for each other. John and Abigail spent significant time apart during the building of the United States requiring them to write letters often. What the Adamses lost during their time apart was posterity's gain because the letters left behind a written record of the work of John Adams, the advice and insight Abigail Adams provided, and the love each had for the other.
Casino Royale is Ian Fleming's first adventure of James Bond. I love James Bond. Who doesn't (I know you are out there so don't write me saying you hate James Bond. This is just a figure of speech)? As I'm sure you have guessed, this book takes James Bond on an adventure through the world of casinos, restaurants, fast cars, fast women, guns, fights, spies, and espionage. I picked Casino Royale to include on my list since it is the first book written by Ian Fleming featuring James Bond. I could have selected any of Fleming's other 007 novels as I love them all. The books are just fun and exciting. There isn't some underlying metaphor in these novels. Bond isn't trying to compensate for some shortcoming by driving around in cars with giant engines (shut up, no he isn't). All the 007 books tell wonderfully crafted stories that take the reader away into a different world. Some may call them beach books because you can read a few of these novels during a week long vacation sitting on a beach. I love them.
Finally, I give you Red Sun by Mark Millar, a graphic novel that turns the table on Superman. The story of Superman is widely known. An alien landing on earth in the United States mid west. The alien is given the name Clark Kent, is raised by the good hearted Kents, learns he has super powers, and grows up to be a fighter for truth, justice and the American Way. Well what if the alien had crashed in the farms of soviet Russia. How would Superman be different? How would the entire would be different? This is what Mark Millar explores in Red Sun. Superman is still fighting, only now it is for truth, justice, and Mother Russia. I included this to show that reading can come in many varieties. Graphic novels and comic books can be read and tell just as intricate and entertaining stories as novels.
Go right ahead and judge some of my favorites. I might have been offended in the past but not anymore. I am what I am and I like what I like. It's not important that you enjoy reading what I enjoy reading. What is important is to read as much as you can so you can find what you like. There is a book for everyone out there. I hope you find yours.
P.S. I believe that reading to kids from birth is very important. I have no scientific basis for this but I have that gut feeling that reading to a kid is a good thing. The kid gets to spend quality time with whomever is doing the reading (Mom, Dad, Grandparent, Aunt, Uncle, Sibling, Cousin, Care Giver) and learn something new.
In her blog in the New York Times, Dr. Perri Glass discusses a study in the journal Pediatrics that analyzed the brain activity of 3-5 year old children as they listened to age appropriate stories. I'm no doctor (clearly based upon my monosyllabic writing style and absence of a white lab coat), but if I'm reading the article correctly, the study showed that the parts of the brain responsible for integrating sound and visual stimulation lights up like a pinball machine when kids hear books read out loud. The good doctor (and the study) seem to think that this indicates the kids are creating a world in the minds eye. So if you are reading to your kid about the wart on the frog on the bump on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea, your kid can think "I caught a frog once in the back yard so I know what that looks like. And Daddy can't stop talking about how the giant wart on Great Aunt Kathy's nose looks like Greedo from Star Wars" and now the kid can visualize the wart on the frog. The study suggests that kids getting more activation in this part of their brain may develop skills that will help them make images and stories out of words later in life.
This is definitely a good thing. If all I have to do is read age appropriate books to Cece to guarantee she will write the next Star Wars trilogy then I'm all for it. I mean, someone has to keep Star Wars alive once JJ Abrams is done and it's not going to be me. I don't have the energy to write a movie script, or a novel, or a short story, or even what would qualify as a half-way decent blog. I'm not just reading "Are You My Mother?" for the 300th time tonight, I'm helping to spark her imagination so Cece can create her own universe. So Cece, let's find that Snort again.
P.S. to the P.S. Cece, if in 20 years Skynet hasn't taken over the planet and you are able and willing to read this, please keep the following in mind while creating your own universe. (1) Vampires do not glisten in the sunlight like a goddamn magic show. (2) The Hunger Games is not real. You cannot light your dress on fire and expect to look good. (3) Han shot first. (4) Not everything has to have some deeper meaning. Sometimes a movie is just a movie and a book is just a book, so try to enjoy them.
Entertainment is important so stop analyzing this shit. Shit. (This sentence is a shout out to Joe so don't worry if you don't get the inside joke).
P.P.S. I love living in Herndon, VA. It wasn't until recently that I learned that Herndon has a Little Free Library that is available to everyone. The concept is simple, if you take a book you, leave a book.
The library is outside right in the middle of downtown Herndon so it is easily accessible and never closes. You may not be able to see from the picture but the top shelf is labeled adult, the middle shelf teen, and the bottom shelf kid.
I love this idea because it provides a resource for books, especially those who may not be as privileged as others. Owning lots of books is a luxury that many cannot afford but thanks to programs like this there is always a way go get access to something new to read.