Thursday, April 8, 2010

You like to read. We get it.

In a short essay at The Millions, Philip Graham gives a brief account of his come-to-Jesus moment as a reader:

I remember the moment, the slow walk across the second grade classroom, to one of those bookshelves that could be pushed around on wheels.  This one was parked, though, and I was heading for it. What was I thinking at the time?  That, I can’t remember now, I can only recall the purposeful walk, as if something about that bookshelf called to me.  And when I got there, I found a book that would change my life. Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary. 

I call bullshit. "Purposeful walk"? "That bookshelf called to me"? Look, I loved Cleary books too as a kid, and I remember these giant aluminum Scholastic monoliths that invaded my grade school every couple of months, but this strains credulity. I find this kind of quasi-mystical teleology unhelpful and even a little insulting. What if you didn't love to read as a kid? Or don't love to read now? Does this mean you weren't chosen or that your fate is somehow apart from the possibilities of a reading life?

How about this--you got lucky. Lucky that the cover of the book caught your eye and that the author you happened to find is fantastic. How about your school and Scholastic went to great lengths to make kids interested in reading and that your family was in position to foster your fledgling bibliophilia. 

I appreciate that Mr. Graham loves reading; I love it too. I also agree that reading can add richness to life in a way that few other pursuits can. But it's not magic---intimating that it is might serve our own sense of purpose, but it also obscures the real work of getting kids (and adults) to think of themselves as readers.