I seem to be doing a lot of posts about books lately, but that’s ok because I rather like them a lot. The Boy, unfortunately, does not share that love with me. It’s not his fault; so many children are cheated out of the wonder of reading simply because they weren’t introduced to books correctly. Something about their initial experience was too boring, or too stressful, or it just wasn’t the right book. I got lucky, my mom is a kickass teacher and literacy specialist and she got me hooked young. The Boy was not so lucky. And when we first started dating that was a bit of a problem, for me anyway. I can’t tell you how many conversations we had that ended with me saying, “WHAT!? You never read [insert title of amazing children’s book here]. What kind of poor, deprived childhood did you have!?” How could I be with a man that didn’t like books?
Well let me tell you something: he didn’t like spicy food when we started dating, either. Every time I cooked he’d whine and complain and guzzle water and I would shrug and tell him to make his own dinner if he couldn’t handle mine and, little by little, the complaints petered out. Surely books couldn’t be that different?
I started off giving him books. Every birthday or Christmas or what have you he gets his “real” present and a stack of books. Books I just knew he would love if he gave them a chance. He’d make a valiant effort and get through a few chapters and like it all very much, but he could only make himself look at a page for so long. Clearly more effort would be necessary.
As I mentioned before, my mom is a total rockstar and the reason why I read the way that I do today. And one of the most important things she did was read to me. Because she didn’t stop once I had figured out how to do it on my own, we kept reading together every night long after I learned to sound out words. It was always such a sweet bonding experience because she clearly loved the books we read as much as I did, so we could discuss and argue and all of the amazing things you feel when you read we got to share together. And there was my stroke of inspiration.
Because The Boy had never read so many of my favorite books as a kid, we started there. We read a chapter every night before we go to bed, and sometimes during the day if it’s raining or we’re at an especially exciting part and he needs to know what happens next (we read the entire Hunger Games trilogy, which was an exhilarating and stressful experience for him). We didn’t used to read every night, only every once in awhile, but I noticed it was hard for him to jump back into a story if we’d been away from the characters for too long, so I recently issued the “one chapter a night” mandate.
Before the chapter begins I ask him if he remembers what happened last time, and he has to recount everything he can remember from the last chapter and if anything very important is missing we have to go back. This sometimes stresses him out, but my mom used to do this with me and she still does it with her students because retention is important. If he’s forgotten something crucial that we’ve already read, he won’t understand something important later in the story, and for that he won’t love the book as much and so won’t start to really love reading, which is the whole point.
Picking the right book is hard, too. I can’t just pick a story I know he would like, I have to think about how it sounds out loud. We tried to read Jitterbug Perfume a couple months ago, but Tom Robbins’ sentences are incredibly difficult to read aloud because they can be so random and winding which is especially tricky because no matter how hard I try to go slow, I always read just a little too fast. We ended up having to give up and move on to a new book after awhile, because he was having so much trouble following along. I still don’t think that choice was a complete failure. We were both busy and at school and trying to read over skype is difficult and necessitates much simpler sentences due to sound issues. But it’s my favorite book and I remain convinced that one day we will read it together, when we have a lot of free time and close proximity to one another.
Right now we’re working on The Secret of Platform 13, a much underrated and unheard-of children’s book that is absolutely amazing and one of my all-time favorites. If you haven’t heard of it, go find it now. It’s that perfect mixture of quirkiness and darkness that is the mark of so many of “The Greats” in my opinion. In the past we’ve read The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, Bridge to Terabitihia, and The Hunger Games trilogy, as I mentioned before. I have known and loved all of these books for a long while, and there is really no feeling more amazing than watching The Boy experience them for the first time. Like when he insisted we stay up all night finishing Mockingjay, or when he cried at the end of Terabithia. In moments like those I sometimes look at him and think, “Right now I love you more than I did just five minutes ago.”