Thursday, January 08, 2009

A family of readers

One of my favorite family photos shows me as an infant lying in the summer sunshine on a blanket next to my young father, who had recently graduated from Indiana State Teachers College and taken a job as the science teacher at a small-town high school not far from Crawfordsville. If you look closely you can see that he is reading The Grapes of Wrath. Years later, scouring the bookshelves in my parents’ room, I found that old copy of Steinbeck. But I also found, and just as eagerly read, Morton Thompson’s Not as a Stranger (the scene in which Dr. Lucas Marsh tends to a young boy who has docked his own penis put me off medicine forever), The Caine Mutiny, Andersonville, Anatomy of a Murder, Advise and Consent. My folks may have read bestsellers, but they read serious bestsellers—big important social-issues stuff.

My two-year-old son Isaac has begun asking to take books to bed with him. The next morning he will be found lying quietly, on his stomach, like his grandfather in the photo, turning the pages and carefully studying what he finds there. Like all three of my boys, he enjoys being read to. (“Talk to it, Daddy,” my son Saul used to say when he wanted me to read a book aloud.) I suspect, however, that what the boys really enjoy is sitting in my lap, spending time with their father, doing what they see him doing for long hours without them. Not every good reader comes from a reading family. My guess, in fact, is that he is more likely to develop like a professional athlete from bestsellers to less serious and more venturesome books if he doesn’t inherit the reading habit and must work himself up. (By the time I was a teenager, my father was obsessively reading Alistair MacLean.) Yet the single greatest influence on a child’s becoming a reader later in life, of any books at all, is whether he grows up in a household of books, in a family of readers.


teacherninja said...

Wonderful, thank you. I have a similar photo of me and my infant daughter. I hope she treasures it as much as you treasure yours.