Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Instilling a Love of Reading

One of my Christmas presents this year was an audio book. It wasn't just any audio book, though. My father recorded himself reading Songs for a Machine Age, in a format I could import into my iPod. He did it all in one take, so I have his stumbles, misreadings, corrections, pauses to turn pages, and background noises. At one point, the phone rings, and he informs me upon resuming that it was a wrong number. Another time, he pauses to tell my sister's dog what a good girl she is. There are a couple of points where I can hear the murmur of conversation, and I recognize my sister's and my mother's voices.

So it's hardly a polished production, but it's certainly something to hold onto. Not just for those personal gems, but also because my father has a wonderful voice. He majored in speech in college, and had a radio show for much of my childhood. Many of my memories as a kid involve visiting him at the radio station, making faces at him through the soundproof glass to mess him up while he was on the air (he never faltered), and making paper airplanes to throw off the second floor into the lobby. He also performed several roles for the Cape Cod Radio Mystery Theater, of which I got to watch some of the recordings.

Photo of father reading to his daughter courtesy of
the Library of Congress (Public Domain)
I didn't know how he'd worked to hone his voice when I was a kid, though. All I knew was, my father's voice soothed me, and I loved to hear him read. My sisters and I would make him read us Dr. Seuss books (One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish was a particular favorite), and make him read it faster and faster, trying to trip him up. We couldn't read sections of it, even slowly, without spoonerisms galore, but I remember that he always read flawlessly.

I don't remember how old I was when he read me The Hobbit over the summer, one chapter at a time. I remember the voices he had for the characters, and how some of them made me laugh. I remember begging him to read a little more, but I don't recall if he indulged me. I remember it started me on my interest in fantastic narratives, and I couldn't get through The Lord of the Rings for years because Bilbo played such a tiny part in it. I remember when the local high school's summer drama program cast him as Gandalf, my mind couldn't grasp anyone else in the role.

I'm well aware that I was lucky to grow up with both of my parents, and that I was downright fortunate that my father had that half an hour to spend with me every night, reading me a story. Not everyone comes by their love of reading this way, and I'm privileged to have this story to share with all of you.

But, if you have children, or you're thinking of having them, also think about how you want them to feel about reading. Whether you love it, or you feel indifferent to reading, if you want your children to grow up to love reading, part of it is making time for teaching them how.

And, if you're uninterested in children of your own, or unable to have them, consider volunteering with a local literacy nonprofit, or at your local library. Lifelong readers start young. These are the memories fond readers carry with them for a very long time.


  1. Aww. What an amazing gift. My mom used to read to me all the time too. Guess that's why I love it so much.

    1. It definitely helps to build on a foundation of pleasant memories.

      It was an excellent gift. Not quite what I had in mind when I nudged him with a suggestion about it, but better, in a way, for its flaws.