Has Reading Always Been Easy For You?
As I prepare for my upcoming book release, it's easy to reflect on the bookish things I'm most grateful for. Of course, one of the top things on my list is READING! Which makes me wonder: What helped you learn to love reading? What was that first story you couldn't put down? That time you felt like you were living a second life through the pages? (Drop a comment below. I'd love to hear about your journey!) For some, books are immediately loveable. For others, book are like brussel sprouts and broccoli. I remember the first time I realized I could read billboards on the freeway. My six-year-old eyes darted left and right as the messages whizzed past. It was overwhelming to see so many words flying at me so, naturally, I flopped down on the back seat and cried.
"My eyes won't stop reading!" But then I found books. I could sit in a quiet room, snuggled up under a blanket, and escape into a story. By 5th grade, I was at a college reading and spelling level. Words were my thing, and I was proud of it.
But, not everyone feels warm and fuzzy about reading. When I met my husband, I was working at a college bookstore, reading fantasy novels every day behind the register. He's a pretty intelligent guy and was taking pre-med classes to prepare for his doctorate program in Optometry. On one of our dates, I asked him what his favorite book was and was shocked to hear that... He didn't read fiction. The list of books he had read comprised state-required reading like Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, and Fahrenheit 451. We went through his elementary mementos and found that his mom had paper-clipped unclaimed dollar bills to his writing assignments! It blew my mind. How could a person not adore words the way I did? Somewhere through elementary school, there was a disconnect for my husband between academics and reading. And research shows it's a common thing for boys to experience. A scholastic study found that only 27% of boys say they read 5 days a week for fun, and 47% of boys say they have a hard time finding a book that interests them. The reality in the publishing world is that—if boys don't read, then boy books don't sell, so publishers don't print them, so boys have a hard time finding books that interest them! It's a horrible catch-22 that we've fallen into as an industry. And a major part of why I started writing...
But let me tell you about the magic of "The First Book". One day, I came home from my job at the bookstore with a new series that everyone was raving about called "The Hunger Games". "Do you want me to read out loud to you?" I asked. My husband flopped down in bed with a bowl of popcorn, ready to indulge me, knowing that he'd likely drift off to sleep from the lull of my voice. Except that we read until 3 AM. The next night we read "Catching Fire" until 2 AM. (That title's a little meta now that I think of it.) After that, we started reading bedtime stories together every night, tearing through as many sci-fi dystopian novels as we could get our hands on—Divergent, Enders Game, The Giver, The Maze Runner... Then, he started checking out a wider variety of books from the library on his own: Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. Carrie by Stephen King. Just a few months ago, he bought his own audible subscription and is listening to 48 hour long masterpieces every day on his way to work!
All it took was finding the "first book", which led him to a genre he enjoyed. Once that love of fiction was sparked, it drove him to dive in even deeper. I love that now we can both geek out about Brandon Sanderson and Six of Crows. I'll admit, after seeing my husband's love for fiction grow, I felt a little smug, thinking I could help anyone become a reader. Then I had kids...
Gifted with two reluctant reader boys, I've love how many more resources are available for these little guys. Also... Homeschool. My kids just weren't loving life, so we opted to bring them home for a season where they could literally do their reading lessons standing on their heads, or jumping on the trampoline. I know it's not their favorite, so I try to pair small doses of it with something they DO love.
I love that I could ease them into stories with graphic novels with short punchy sentences and big wacky visuals that make them laugh like in Dogman. I'm so grateful for the never-ending series of goofy scenarios in "Diary of a Wimpy Kid". I adore that I have to check up on them at night so they're not reading another chapter of "Wings of Fire" past bedtime. And now, my twelve year old just tore through the "Hunger Games" series, and it feels like I've come full circle with this amazing world of reading. Whether they discover that love at 12 or 30, I'm so grateful for the books that make that happen.
And of course, getting a sweet message from a reader that she put up this sign in her school library makes me feel like maybe my goal to help boys discover a love for stories might be working after all. (Thanks @natsbookshelves!)