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For the Love of Reading

2012 November 5
by Jill


In a conversation recently, someone I know expressed surprise when told that someone they knew in a professional capacity had earned an MFA in poetry. She attributed her surprise to the fact that this person didn’t come from a “literary family.” This is something I’ve long been interested in–if your family (siblings, parents, grandparents) belongs to the “avid readers” category, does that automatically mean that you will be more interested in reading and writing; and, conversely, if your family doesn’t spend a great deal of time reading, does that mean you won’t develop a love of books?

Obviously, parents and children can develop vastly different skills and interests. When I was growing up, my dad watched NASCAR racing on television, while my mom preferred “The Frugal Gourmet.” Does that mean that I like NASCAR and cooking? No, absolutely not. In fact, I don’t particularly like either.

One’s taste in movies, music, art, and books is so complicated and layered that it can’t be attributed solely to one’s genes. Sure, if your parents had a huge library in your house when you were growing up, or encouraged more reading, then perhaps you’re more likely to become a voracious reader. However, though my mom brought me to the library on nearly a weekly basis when I was a kid, my brother came on those trips as well, and while I became someone who reads constantly, my brother would much rather watch a movie or play a video game. Of course, this could be attributed to gender stereotypes, but my gist is–where does a love of reading (or dancing or writing or painting or piano) come from, if not from our genes or our environment?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved to read. It’s not something that needed to be drilled into me or even actively encouraged. I just did it, even though I was a little bit of a slow starter when I was first learning.  I looked forward to our visits to the library, never leaving without a stack of books. I would read in bed, after lights out, by the light from the hallway through my door. Reading and Language were my favorite subjects in school, and I was constantly getting in trouble for reading ahead in the book.

Looking back now, I can’t imagine a life without reading and books. It astounds me that so many people just don’t read. True, we’re all lacking for time in our busy schedules, and I have the luxury of a somewhat lengthy commute on public transportation every day, but I still don’t understand how the majority of Americans read less than a book a year. Of course, I have never played an organized team sport in my life and I can’t even draw a decent stick figure, so I’m willing to say “everyone has their thing.” And my thing is reading.

What’s your “thing”? Did your family encourage your reading habits? Do you remember how you became a reader?

6 Responses Post a comment
  1. November 5, 2012

    My sister and I are much like you and your brother: we were both brought to the library almost weekly, and my parents tried very hard to foster a love of reading (although I didn’t realize until much later that my mother rarely ever read herself). I loved it and was finished with my books before the next trip, while my sister was the exact opposite. Now that we’re both in our mid-20s, my reading habits are the same, while hers have evolved a bit. Even though she’s not a voracious reader by any means, she does follow a few authors and reads their new offerings religiously.

    That being said, I think I absorbed a lot more of my parent’s interests than she did even outside of reading. My dad watched hockey and played the Talking Heads, and now I do. Her interests sprang more from spending time with friends than with family, I think.

    Great post! Hope things are getting back to normal after Sandy for you!

  2. November 5, 2012

    Like you, there were lots of library trips and books were always around. I have to give my grandma credit for my love of reading as well. She pushed me to read books above and beyond my reading level. We read “Romeo and Juliet” out loud; she gave me an illustrated copy of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Coleridge; and she would recommend to me her favorite books from her childhood. That push really made me see beyond the typical childrens and young adult books that were out there at the time to the world of wide-ranging literature.

  3. Raquel permalink
    November 5, 2012

    What a great post! I think a love of reading can certainly be encouraged or fostered in a person, but some people just seem to gravitate toward the imaginative world reading can provide, just as others gravitate toward visual arts, movies, sports, etc. I think for me books filled a need for companionship–I was very shy and introverted and loved the adventure and imagination books provided. Neither of my parents read very often–I think in the 32 years I’ve known him, my father has read less than a dozen books, and since English is her second language, my mom reads slowly–and yet they encouraged my love of reading from day one. They bought me books constantly and even let me bring a book to the dinner table sometimes, if I was really caught up in something. So I thank them for giving me a gift they themselves weren’t that into. My parents did tell me stories, though, about themselves and their lives, so I think that also encouraged my craving for a good story. (Although I think the love of a good story is innately wired into all humans–whether it’s through comics, movies, TV, songs, theater, or something else, pretty much everyone loves a good story.)

    BTW, my dad loved watching The Frugal Gourmet and yet he literally cannot cook even an egg without catastrophe. Dads are a quirky lot!

  4. November 5, 2012

    My mom was a voracious reader, and both her parents were voracious readers as well. (My grandmother was a librarian.) I can’t remember a time when we weren’t making regular trips to the public library. Whenever we moved to a new city, just about the first thing we did was sign up for library cards. My mom loved reading aloud to us and for years–long after I was able to read independently–we had nightly reading sessions and made our way through all her favorite series from her own childhood. So yes, I love to read and so does my brother, but my sister–not so much. Meanwhile, I carried on with my own children what my mother did, but only one of my four children can be considered a big reader. But there’s hope. My daughter tells me she is really enjoying the lit class she’s taking in college right now, and my 13 year old son asked for a copy of The Catcher in the Rye because all his friends are reading it.

  5. Melissa permalink
    November 6, 2012

    I think this is a really interesting topic. I have always loved reading, but I think that over the course of my life I dedicated different amounts of time to it. Especially when I am really busy with work it sometimes feels easier to just veg in front of the TV. However, I have really fond memories of my grandfather taking me to the Pontiac Library on Saturdays for story time. I can still remember the smell of all the books, and how much I looked forward to going. Its also a special memory that I associate with my grandfather who got pretty sick as I got a little older, so wasn’t able to get around very much. My 16 year old stepson used to read all the time, and still enjoys the reading he does in school, but tends to spend most of his free time playing sports or hanging out with friends. Hopefully as he gets older he will get back into reading again!

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