Here’s a story that I know will be much discussed in the blogosphere: people aren’t reading much these days. According to this poll, one in four adults said they read no books in the last year. The typical person claimed to have read four. (I also love the picture they ran with this story: a woman not just reading, but smoking a cigarette and drinking a glass of wine, at a bar, as she does so. What’s that about?) To be honest, I have to say that I’m not really all that surprised to hear this, although it’s kind of dismaying. I think that you either are in the reading habit, or you’re not. Personally, I grew up in a house where my parents were always reading, and encouraged me to do the same, and it’s the reason I’m a reader, as well as a writer, actually, as you can’t be a writer if you don’t read. It’s the only way you learn, simple as that.
Back when I was teaching, I always handed out a questionnaire on the first day of classes, where I asked my students about themselves. I always asked what was their favorite book, a book they didn’t like, and the last book they read. The first question was usually easy for them, the second even easier (poor Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, they popped up a lot, clearly forced reading from classes). But the last book they read….this one often stymied them. “Textbooks don’t count!” I often had to add, which led to even more pencil chewing and ceiling contemplating. The basic truth is, a lot of people just don’t read for pleasure. When I was an English major in college, I know I didn’t: I had so much to read for school that there was just no way. But I remember specifically telling myself, once I graduated, that I was now going to return to reading for fun, and that’s just what I did. Nowadays, I always have at least one book going, sometimes two: right now, it’s Ian McAwen’s Saturday, which I just began, and Carolyn Mackler’s great new YA, Guyaholic. Strange bedfellows, maybe, but not really. That’s the great thing about reading. You can shift from one whole world to another, just by picking up a different book.
It’s funny. Being pregnant, you get so much input about how to make your baby smarter: you should listen to classical music while you gestate, buy Baby Einstein videos, take fish oil, blah blah blah. Frankly, I’m not sure how much I believe all that. But one thing I do know is that in with all the onesies, and stuffed animals, and great baby stuff, I knew I wanted books. In fact, one of the first thing I bought for the baby, early on, was a copy of Where The Wild Things Are, and I was lucky enough to receive as a wonderful gift from my editor a huge box of children’s books (nothing like getting a library from the experts!). They are already all on the shelf, waiting. I’m so looking forward to rediscovering all of these characters, Ping and Madeline and Goodnight Moon, as well as all the new stuff that wasn’t around when I was a kid. I can’t guarantee the baby will be a reader. But I plan to do my best.