I haven’t been reading as much these last few months. Reading is a habit, and once you fall out of the habit, filling up the time with other distractions is all too easy. It amazes me how much time I spend on the computer now, checking the same round of websites for updates, looking up references on wikipedia and IMDb, and messing around in photoshop. I find playing on the computer pleasurable, but it doesn’t give me the same sense of accomplishment as reading a good book.
Usually when I need to recharge my reading batteries, I turn to children’s books. Some of the best books I’ve read in the last ten years were written for kids or teens. That’s not to say anything against the children’s books that I read before, but ten years ago I began a job in the children’s section at a large Borders Books. That’s when my interest became a passion.
Adults who haven’t read a really good children’s book since they were young may not remember the pure, intense emotional satisfaction that it produces. It’s not something that you felt just because you were a kid. It happen to any reader who still feels, and I’m always impressed and amazed how the authors manage to elicit this emotional reaction in such a compact work. I could write a list of writers who consistently accomplish this in their books, but it would be a meaningless list if you don’t understand first what I mean by this emotional satisfaction. (Grown-ups who love these books already know what I mean, so forgive me if I’m preaching to the choir.) Here’s a great example. Most adults who experienced and loved Charlotte’s Web still remember how much they cried over the death of a spider. This is a slim little book about a pig and a spider that produced feelings so strong we can still remember them after all these years. The best books for children don’t shy away from the serious issues of life, especially death, and children recognize this and love them for it. My brother and I were so passionate about Charlotte’s Web that we each had to have our own copy, because we couldn’t stop fighting over who got to re-read it next. (Just as an aside, I also loved E.B. White’s Trumpet of the Swan, which never gets the same attention.)
An easy way to find good children’s books is to consult the list of Newbery Medal winners. I would like to say that I’ve read all the winners, and the honor books, too, but I’ve still got a long way to go with this list. I tend to use the Newberys as a jumping off point. The Newbery Medal list will lead you to all these great authors, and you’ll want to read more of their work. Just a few of my favorites are Christopher Paul Curtis, Jennifer L. Holm, Kate DiCamillo, Nancy Farmer, Sharon Creech, Richard Peck, and E.L. Konigsburg.
Another way I’ve been getting back into the reading habit is to give in to my computer obsession. I’m reading books on my computer. It’s no kindle, but I just read my first book from the library using my laptop. It was Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. I am surprised by how quickly it went, which just goes to show how time flies on the computer, regardless of what you’re doing.
A friend just turned me on to dailylit.com, which is another great way to recharge those batteries. You can choose from a decent list of books, both fiction and non-fiction, and this website will email you a couple of pages every day. Or three times a week. You set the frequency and even the time they arrive in your inbox. You can also suspend your emails for vacations or when life gets too busy. Many of the books are classics that are in the public domain, and these are the books I always intend to read but rarely begin, let alone finish. Right now I’m reading Dicken’s Dombey and Son in 443 installments. That means it will take more than a year to read in daily emails. I hope that the story will get so compelling that I can’t wait to get to the next page. Then I will get a copy of the book to finish faster. Dickens is a great author to read in small batches, because when you read him too fast, you can miss all his little character flourishes and humor. I am also getting a-poem-a-day and Spirits in Bondage by C.S. Lewis.
My monthly book club compels me to read at least one adult book a month. Zeitoun is this month’s selection, and next month is The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Both books should trigger lively discussions.
What are you reading to kick off the new year?