I was recently talking to my friend (who is now a 5th grade teacher) about the generational divide when it comes to literacy. We felt that when we were growing up books were the ultimate reward. Sure, not everyone in our classes probably felt that way, but I distinctly remember classroom altercations over who got to read the next Captain Underpants in grade school. Even up through high school we would vie to read the new books our teachers allowed us to borrow from their stash.

So why was it that our gradeschool relatives did not enjoy the thrill of reading as we did? Her cousins and my sisters are roughly the same ages (4th and 8th), yet they did not seem at all interested in summer reading programs or even the newest best-seller/based-on-a-book-motion-picture. Why? It grieved us to recount conversations with said relatives.

I try not to compare myself with my siblings (because that begins the slippery slope of unfair expectations), but talking to my 13-year-old sister is excruciating. We don’t have much to talk about in terms of social interactions because she is home-schooled and I am in graduate school. Mentioning books I had read by her age was a topic I thought we could really get into. Alas.

Have you read The Hobbit? NO.

How about Pride and Prejudice? Uhhh, no. But I’ve seen the movie and they have pretty dresses.

Harry Potter? Little Women? Nope. But I have the Harry Potter Wii games.

A Series of Unfortunate Events? Chronicles of Narnia? Princess Diaries? Maybe one of them. I don’t remember. I like those movies though.

I feel numb. You would remember the joys of those authors! There’s no way you’d forget it.

Is this lack of intimacy with books because of the increase in video games? My friend said she doubted it because we grew up with video games and we yet loved to read. (Perhaps it’s not games themselves, but the amount of gadgets and games that are now available) Maybe it boils down to whether or not parents encourage it. My grandma made trips to the local library a special treat I had to earn.

I remember stepping through the doors of the local one, though smaller than the one downtown it still held shelves of books about things I had never yet heard of. The thought of discovering unknown stories and histories and all-around knowledge thrilled me to my core. Why else would you have seen a 6th grader with a pile of age appropriate novels and a separate pile for Shakespeare, mythology, travel and history? It didn’t hit me until later that I would never read all of the books in that place. (When I came to terms with this I felt as if every idle moment of my existence had been a complete waste.)

There was a certain mystery to the Young Adult section when I was a kid. Then I started moving up, but slowly. The YA section was upstairs, with the regular (i.e. adult) fiction. It seemed like a forbidden place, being so close to the section that I was not yet old enough for. When I finally gained the courage to visit the YA section I was enthralled, but then I would sneak over to the regular fiction and get lost in the stacks. Classics with bent spines. Glossy-covered new releases. Dusty sci-fi books in the very back, relegated to share space with the Westerns (tell me, where would you categorize Space-Westerns?). These aisles seemed taller and longer than the ones I was used to. They even seemed darker. As if the shelves were so tall that the lights had a hard time permeating the top stacks.

This glee over libraries has yet to abate for me (I pretty much had a book-gasm when I stepped into ONE of the libraries on campus. Partially because of the 30’s architecture and partly because academic books are sexy.) but it seemed to have skipped my siblings. I don’t want to be disappointed, but I can’t help that feeling as it washes over me. Not only does it mean we have one less (major) topic to discuss, but I can see why their world can seem so boring. Depriving themselves of the adventure and solace of books is a mistake they will one day regret, but for now I can only keep trying to tempt them with recommendations and gifted books.

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