A Question Answered
Reading is important. It allows us access to knowledge suspended in time. Whether written a day or a millennium ago, the act of reading allows us to absorb it as though fresh. The dead communicate with us through our ability to read. Through reading, we gain access to the thoughts of kings, saints, philosophers, and gods. The people we love, when separated by distance, can feel closer to us when we read letters and emails from them. The people we love, when separated by emotional walls, can through writing express feelings that they cannot voice — and we are brought closer to them. Reading is essential to who I am. Everything I have learned, every idea I have taken and through my own energy made greater, came to me through reading. As a child I would sometimes read so long past my bedtime that I couldn’t function at school. My parents would have to check on me in the middle of the night to make sure I wasn’t reading. I no longer read as often as I should. With adulthood comes a poverty of time and energy that limits access to books. Something important to note: the great men and women of this world, they all make time for reading.
Recent studies on poverty and childhood intellectual development often refer to the “30 million word gap” — a child growing up in an upper income household hears 30 million more words by the age of three than a child from a lower income household. A huge contributor to this word gap can be found in the act of reading. My parents were no different then than I am now. They suffered from the poverty of time and energy of adulthood that left no opportunity for books. Still, they made it a priority to read to me. They never told me this. Neither ever said, “David, we read to you all the time when you were a baby.” It’s not something that ever needed to be told.
I remember every single time my mother or father read to me.
Did they read to me often? I cannot say. From the perspective of my childhood, I’d say the didn’t read to me often, or enough — but then, from the perspective of my childhood, I would say that I wasn’t given enough ice cream either. And I know that to be an untruth. There is a little cognitive dissonance here, I freely admit. My parents read to me so many times that they cannot be counted, and yet it was never enough to fill my hunger. Those innumerable times, I cannot count them, but I remember every one of them. I remember them because I treasure them.
I remember the Chronicles of Narnia; I remember The Stone Boy, read from an ancient leather-bound autobiography called Indian Boyhood; I remember Doctor Seuss: The Lorax, Bartholomew and the Oobleck (this was my favorite), the Sneetches, Horton Hatches the Egg, and Yertle the Turtle, to name a few; and I remember the books by Beverly Cleary, who chronicled the adventures of Ramona. I remember the poetry as well: I remember The Highwayman, El Dorado, Gunga Din, and all the others contained in the volume America’s Best Loved Poems.
They read to me even after I had learned to read to myself, and I was adamant that they did so.
On top of this, my mother made sure I had access to the books — ALL THE BOOKS. Every other Saturday, she would drive us to the public library, where we would explore the stacks, picking through the sections until until we had harvested our fifteen book limit. I would fill my basket with anthologies of ghost stories, and reference books on strange scientific phenomena (I went through a phase where I was fascinated with tornadoes and parasites). When I was old enough for an allowance, she would take me to bookstore where I would invest in fantasy and science fiction novels.
It probably seems trivial, how my parents read to me and encouraged me to read, but I cannot express the effect it had on my life in terms of the opportunities it provided me. The love of reading is a foundation of granite that fortifies any structure that stands on top of it. It provides tremendous advantages that cannot be articulated.
Recently, I was talking with my mother over the phone about learning, and she talked about the incredible influence my father and his father had on my education. She had thought that their professions were some sort of standards that I had set for myself. She was wrong, I told her.
“You were the incredible influence. I tell the story of how you would take us to the library every two weeks to everyone I know. I do not have a friend that hasn’t heard it less than three times. It is what has defined me.”
The love of reading — this is one of the things I will bring to the life of a child. I will bring this wonderful thing that my mother brought to me.