Monday, April 9, 2012

...In Which Reading is Like a Comfy Shirt

In my family, stories are important. 

I've always enjoyed stories. When I was a child, I would usually wander around my backyard, narrating my adventures in my head. I would relate to stories in books and on the screen--movies and TV. I wanted to write my stories from an early age, but I was frustrated by my inability to write as fast as my imagination. Some of those stories became series of pictures, because drawing was easier for me. I suppose my entire life was leading toward cartooning from the beginning.

My children love stories. Marina, like me, can relate almost anything back to a story. She has a great arsenal at her disposal, too. She's read mythologies from various countries. She read Shakespeare from our copy of the first folios because she wanted to read it as it was written. She tells stories to her younger siblings and they have had great fun acting these stories out with her. Before Chase could read, you could tell him a story and he could "read" it back to you. He had a harder time catching the reading bug, since the story had to be something he was interested in, but once he found a book or series he liked, such as the Skullduggery Pleasant series, he would devour it. Sierra is also particular about what she wants to read. Her love is animals. Her reading flame was kindled last year when she discovered the Guardians of Ga'Hoole. Now that she's finished that, she's moved on to the Warriors series. These were series her siblings never got into, since they are much more sensitive about characters dying, especially animal characters. They all have their particular tastes in stories, but all of them read. That's important to us.

It's why I wonder about the direction of public education. Marina and I were discussing it this morning. She told me about how many colleges have started looking at focus in college applications. So many students these days pad their applications with extracurriculars for the sake of looking good on the college application. I don't know if it is a countrywide practice, but in our area, volunteerism is a requirement for high school graduation. Does that make sense? You are compelled to volunteer, so some kids never really do it for the love of it. The same is true of school reading requirements. We have overheard many parents at the library who discourage their children's reading because of school requirements. Not only are they steered away from books deemed below their reading level, they are also kept from reading books that are above their level, since these stories might be too difficult for them to comprehend.

Here is the thing about stories. You don't have to understand every subtle metaphor to enjoy it! A good story stirs the emotions of the reader and touches them in a personal way. It may not be according to the author's intent. It's what I've been learning lately about writing, and why I recognize the futility while I struggle to be understood. When you set your words free to settle in the mind of a reader, there is no guarantee that they will land precisely the way you wanted. Indeed, every reading can bring about new revelations to the same reader. It's like giving a young child a shirt to grow into. At first, it might be so big it's more of a dress or tunic than a shirt. Eventually, it fits perfectly. And even if it becomes well-worn and full of holes, it might still be a source of comfort, something to snuggle with when you need the reassuring touch of the familiar.


Home School Dad said...

Your own stories are very captivating. To that end, I finally got around to reviewing your book.


Anonymous said...

So accurate your story is that it drills holes in my head. I must have been 4 to 5 when I opened my 1st book. Like a flash, I started 7th grade, almost bypassing the years in between. Then a jump into the seminary for the next 6 years where my main reading was textbooks with definitions. I didn't even even read the lives of saints I would have liked to emulate.
As a recalled seminarian in Jan.1960, I entered the CUPR, where the textbooks got bigger and and more impenetrable than the Chinese Wall to me. A college degree and two more advanced degrees later, I still had no mastery of reading for enjoyment, except for short magazine articles. What happened? Dyslexia, that had no name like that during most of my life. I'll tell you the rest of the happier story later.
Your article is a great reminder of what I would have loved to have in my early years, but I didn't know how to get it. Your experiences are as satisfying as if I had had them myself. Thank for sharing them.
Love, Dad

Kez said...

That's very sad - I guess reading is one more thing to fall along the wayside in the quest for standardisation. My son doesn't like to read himself, but he loves to listen to audio books, and we read to him every night. I'm hoping the reading thing will come, but at least I know he's getting the experience of the book in some form that still uses his imagination.

Stephanie said...

Oh. My. Gosh. Cristina, you and I were so much alike as kids! I could have written the first paragraph, except for the last line, since I'm not a cartoonist. ;-) It's unbelievable to think that parents are discouraging their kids from reading because of their education. So ironic. Of course this is coming from somebody who played hooky from school to drive to the library and read. :-P

Inner Elder said...

There is so much here. First, lucky us that you give us your wonderful stories in cartoon form. Your comments about reading are so on target. I remember finally being able to read what I liked when all my schooling was done. What freedom! As a poet, I found different meanings even in my own poems when I would re-read them at a different time. And I feel that if anything in any story sparks something in a reader - Wow, what more could a writer ask for. That is - indeed - where school fails. Why should there be only one interpretation. See what you've opened up! Thank you, Mom

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