Friday, March 16, 2012

The joys of reading

For as long as I can remember, I have loved books.

I have long relished peaceful summer afternoons filled by a compelling novel, chilly winter days nestled by the fireplace with something good to read, or the simple and comforting act of curling up with a bedtime story.
As a longtime reader, and now a writer, I am happy to get behind the local celebration this month of the National Education Association’s Read Across America program, which strives to instill in children a lifelong love of reading.

For the past decade I have worked as a writer, and so I am sometimes invited to serve as a speaker for various groups. This month I have been asked to speak at a local middle school about my work, and to read at a local elementary school during its Read Across America celebration. I consider these invitations an honor, and I hope the students find in books all the joy and knowledge there to discover.

The first stories I remember devouring were the Serendipity books – magical tales accompanied by fantastical drawings of doe-eyed animals and colorful fairy creatures. These were some of the first books I could read on my own, and I read one after another.

Eventually I graduated to the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, once spending an entire summer day in bed with a stack of compelling mysteries and consuming a large bag of M&Ms and four entire books. Later, it was on to Judy Bloom, V.C. Andrews, and the teenage drama of the Sweet Valley High series. 

Through the years I’ve embraced several favorite authors – John Irving, Tom Robbins, Barbara Kingsolver, Jodi Picoult – reading all the titles I could find by each in the local bookstore or the library. I’ve also gone through phases of reading the “classics,” from Charles Dickens and Mark Twain to Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen. Occasionally I delve into the timeless poetry of Robert Frost (who for a few years lived and wrote just down the road from my home today), or the work of W.B. Yeats, Maya Angelou, and New Hampshire’s own Donald Hall.

Sometime into my 20s I discovered that E.B. White was not only the author of the beloved children’s book Charlotte’s Web, but also a masterful essayist, and I often return to a collection of his writing when I am between books.

With three young children, I now spend lots of time reading aloud – the zany rhyming tales by Dr. Seuss, the wonderfully silly poems of Shel Silverstein, the mischievous adventures of Curious George, and so many others. We’ve even started on some of the Serendipity books, resurrected from my childhood.

Like most parents, I hope that my kids grow up to cherish many of the things that I do. I’d love for them to play soccer and to find joy in the mountains, to travel to other places and explore close to home, to enjoy gardening and stargazing.

But the affection I most hope to pass on to them is the joy of reading. There is no other adventure that has the capacity to take us so far, to expand our horizons to new people and cultures, to carry us to other times and places.

There is nothing like being lost in the pages of a good book. Reading can take us Across America, and far beyond.

From the Record-Littleton, March 16, 2012.

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