November 11, 2013

Hope For The Written Word


The closing of bookstores, the fact that Amazon now sells more e-books than printed ones, and the tendency of youngsters to choose video games, cell phones, or tablets for entertainment makes someone who loves the printed word shudder. Within my lifetime I have seen a dramatic shift away from personal communication and intimate conversation to mass media, mass interaction, and impersonal communication (texting, et al).

As a book lover I sometimes wonder who will be the last person to turn off the lights at the last remaining print bookstore in America. While I don't suppose that means the end of civilization as we know it, it would be a devastating loss for our species.

For the past few years I have seen a glimmer of light, and hope, huddled in the corner of a house in Gilbert, Arizona. My grandkids live there, with my daughter, their mom, and my son-in-law. Mom was dyslexic and had to spend hours a night during her high school and college career struggling through her text books.

Even so, or maybe because of that, she and her husband have instilled a love of books and reading in their children that gives me hope that all is not lost. Certainly there are other moms and dads teaching their children the power and importance of the written word and the irreplaceable power of a book to transform, to transport, and to empower someone.

My grandson just turned seven. Because the month of his birth is so late in the year he is one of the older children in his first grade class. But, that has little to do with what I want to share with you. Since he was barely three years old he has been reading in some form or another. Very early on, he was directed to books instead of video games or endless hours of television.

Now, in the first grade, he is reading at a fourth or fifth grade level. He reads 100 page books in two days, retaining everything, and anxious to share the plot and excitement of his latest book. His very first choice before bed is to read. He can tell you exactly, down which aisle, on which shelf, and the position on that shelf, where the book is located in the library.

Not to be outdone, his sister, now in Kindergarten, devours the written word just as intently as her big brother. She is reading at something close to a second grade level. Bedtime will find her choosing something to read, or have read to her, before she falls asleep.

Amazingly, the third granddaughter is only three. She is now asking her mommy, "What are those letters? Tell me what those letters say." So anxious to join the fun she can't wait to learn what combinations of letters mean. Is there any doubt she will follow brother and sister's path?

Mom takes the three kids to the local library every three weeks. They check out the maximum allowed limit of 50, yes, fifty books. Every 21 days they return the 50 books, all read and enjoyed, and check out another 50.

This absolutely all consuming interest in reading and all things books was brought to my attention again, on Halloween evening. Betty and I had just helped mom take the three kids around the neighborhood to collect their candy, while dad stayed home to greet the ghouls and goblins who came to their door.

After returning home, sorting through the candy, and allowing each child to choose one piece from the stack, the three trudged off to the bathroom for toothpaste and face washing. Then, without another word, all three retreated to their rooms, picked up a book and began their nightly ritual. There was a 2 foot stack of candy 40 feet away, yet they knew the rules, and so happily chose to end that day with a book.

Just so you don't think these kids are somehow locked away from the real world, my grandson loves Iron Man. He can assemble 350 piece Lego games almost as quickly as the pieces come out of the box. He loves football and is now becoming fascinated by detectives. He loves technology. In his classroom iPads are provided each child for lessons in math, science, and language. In short: he is a normal boy. 

The middle daughter is a budding artist who already has a strong grasp of colors and design. She loves to dance and will twirl whenever she is happy.  Her little sister will do anything and everything big brother and sister do. She is fearless, enjoying nothing more than leaping on my lap or running around the backyard in some manic game of hide and seek.

These three young children will not reverse the world's turn away from the printed word. But, it makes my heart swell with joy when one of them (or all three at once) ask to read me a book or have me tell them a story.  That is one of the best parts of my satisfying retirement.



There is hope.



28 comments:

  1. B is a librarian, and she sees it over and over again: if the parents read, then the kids will read. If there's one thing you can do for your children, or grandchildren, it's to cozy them up around you on the couch or a bed, or around the fire or in the kitchen, then read them a story, laugh with them, and enjoy the magic together.

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    1. I come from a long line of librarians and grew up with books. Betty and I passed that on to our kids. Our oldest daughter has now instilled the love in her kids. It is a tremendous bonding tool for a family.

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  2. Reading is the key to everything.
    You are a blessed man!
    Jeff in OK

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    1. I believe reading is essential to success in life. Not only for the educational aspects but for its ability to transport us to new places and new worlds and expand our imagination.

      As that slogan used to say years ago, "Reading is fun..damental."

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  3. Like you, I'm blessed to have children who are instilling a love of books and reading in my grandchildren. I'm visiting with my daughter right now and my heart swells at seeing agai. How much my granddaughter loves her books. Her reading skills, at four years of age, astound me. She doesn't have access to video games either. She uses her rich imagination in play, has her own library of new and old books ( some that once belonged to her mom!), but is still a regular little girl who loves Tinkerbell and white ponies. The gift of reading is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children.

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    1. My youngest granddaughter wants to be Minnie Mouse at this time of her life. But, she wants to read even more. Yesterday, Betty and I had a "date" with her. On the way to and from the park she wanted us to help her read the street signs and speed limit numbers...all this from a 3 year old.

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  4. I've always believed that as long as there was a book, I never had to be bored and was capable of learning about anything. I still get a thrill going to the library and thinking about accessing any book I want. My adult son and his wife have instilled the love of reading in their 2 daughters and books are a go-to activity. I have yet to learn how to use the electronic reader someone gave me. I still like the feel and smell of a book in my hands. Your grandkids sound brag worthy. Aren't they all?

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    1. The responses so far are quite encouraging. If we believe all the media reports all kids are glued to tablets, Xboxes, and the TV. Obviously, that is not true.

      Yes, nothing smells better than a book!

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  5. Aaah! I can picture your special reading time with your grandchildren....priceless in so many ways! The gift of reading opens so many doors. There is something irreplaceable by a physical book. And the example we set for our children/grandchildren won't fall on deaf ears. With Christmas approaching, the gift of a book is something we can give.....don't know which commercial.....not for books for sure.....but a book is the gift that keeps on giving. Thanks fort sharing this heartwarming story today.

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    1. Betty and I have discussed the importance of making sure at least some of the Christmas gifts are those that feed the kids' minds and not just their current interest (Iron Man, Minnie Mouse, etc). Kids must be kids, but we firmly believe in helping their minds and imagination develop, too.

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  6. Oh, how I hope we never lose those bookstores! But more importantly, I hope we never lose our brick and mortar libraries. I spent many a Saturday there in the children's corner, snuggled up with a good book. I also have fond memories of a little library-sponsored bookmobile, pulled by a pickup truck, that would park on my elementary school parking lot every two weeks during the summer break. As a child, I would ride my bicycle there, load up on chapter books, and head home for an afternoon of reading on the porch swing. The bookmobile librarian was a kind lady who always welcomed me with a smile, and would make suggestions and guide my reading selections. What a wonderful surprise I had on my first day of Jr. College there in my hometown. I walked into the library and found that my childhood bookmobile librarian was now my college librarian!
    This childhood access to free reading material was very important to a little girl from a blue collar family where little emphasis was placed on reading and higher education. It provided me the opportunity to dream and reach for a better future.
    As a first grade teacher who often taught in lower income areas, I had the pleasure of introducing many children to the joys of reading. It was amazing how many of them didn't have access to reading material at home. I spent a lot of money building a huge classroom library and making sure that everyone had plenty of books to take home each night and enjoy.
    I'm thankful that my grandchildren, like yours, have many books on their bedroom shelves and have been exposed to reading at a very young age. It gives this grandmother great pleasure to see them choosing a book over a tv show!

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    1. Kudos to you, Glenda, for your efforts to bring reading materials and the joy of reading to your students. Teachers have the ability to build a young life in so many ways. I don't think enough people understand what power a teacher has in a young child's life. If they did we'd pay teachers much more and show them a greater level of respect.

      Strong independent bookstores and well-maintained libraries are two cornerstones to a healthy community. The Phoenix metro area is blessed in both regards.

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  7. We thought our grandson had a hearing problem. The school said so. Turns out when he has his head in a book, he doesn't listen too well. I see the same eagerness in him that you illustrated so well in your story. We are blessed by that. And pleased.

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  8. Ah...blessed are children who read. My daughter is of the Harry Potter generation and is to this day an avid reader. We never demanded, we simply provided. Her love of the written word has served her well so far. I hope books will still exist for her grandchildren and generations to come. Elementary schools, libraries, etc. are always looking for adults who want to tutor reading. Maybe we could help some of those tired, busy parents out a little.

    Bob, pat yourself on the back and hug your daughter, your grandchildren sound like amazing little people.

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    1. Tutoring is a great idea. Reading is truly the gift that keeps on giving for a full lifetime.

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  9. Funny - I grew up in a family that did not read, but was a 'natural' bookworm from a very early age. In fact, I loved to read so much, that when I was naughty and sent to my room, I was admonished not to read "or else." If I got to read, it wasn't a punishment, and my parents knew this!

    We instilled a love of reading in our daughters by enforcing 15 minute reading times when they were very young, until they began reading beyond the 15 minutes on their own. At bedtime, they were told that even if they weren't sleepy, they had to stay in bed, but they could read until they were too tired to continue. And, on long trips we'd pack the car with library books and they'd read quietly the entire time, and that includes one very, very long road trip from California to Wyoming and back at one point.

    But I do have to give an endorsement for e-readers. To have immediate access to the hundreds of books currently in the public domain is a wonderful thing. That includes the complete works of Dickens, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, the Bronte sisters, and dozens if not hundreds more to name just a few. In fact, I just finished Thoreau's 'Walden' this morning on my e-reader. My e-reader contains hundreds of books, and easily goes with me everywhere, including road trips. I can also log onto my library's e-portal while we are on the road, and download books for free as I need. Plus, hands free reading is a wonderful thing at the breakfast and lunch table! It's not a bad thing that Amazon is selling more e-books than paper books these days in my opinion - if it increases the frequency with which people read, then I see that as a good thing.

    Will I miss bookstores? Sure - we lost our one and only bookstore, Borders, some years ago. But, I've learned to replace the sensation when perusing Amazon.com. Amazon's book portal, including their e-book portal, allows you to see quite a bit before you buy - the cover, the index, the first few pages, and even a bit more.

    I actually read more now than ever before, because my e-reader just makes it all so darn convenient.

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    1. E-readers and downloadable books are a tremendous tool. On an RV trip they are a godsend. But, I still prefer the feel and smell of a printed book when that is an option.

      Vinyl records have made a comeback. Maybe bookstores will follow suit.

      BTW, I re-read Walden a few months ago. Henry Thoreau understood simple living as well as anyone.

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  10. I come from a reading family and I am happy to say it seems to continue, although in electronic form, in newer generations.

    What I will miss most about the increasing loss of print bookstores is the "serendipity factor." When I look at my personal library (too many books, a possible addiction) I am amazed at how many of them found their way into my hands by accident. I was browsing at the bookstore, maybe even looking for a specific book and then I happen upon another title... a totally unexpected discovery that ends up going home with me. I will miss that experience most of all as we move into the e-book era. And yes, I have my Kindle! :)

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    1. I do the same thing when I am on Amazon. I will find the book (print or electronic) I am looking for, then end up finding one or two others that make their way into my shopping cart.

      There is a local used bookstore near us that gets my used books and then gets the money right back when I browse the stacks. It is an addiction.

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  11. When my 13-year-old granddaughters come to visit, we go to the library on the first day so they can check out whatever they want.

    They also like screen time!

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    1. I'm glad to learn the reading habit has made it into her teen years. I think once you start a habit like reading early enough it should be a lifelong love.

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  12. I'm with you, Bob. As a librarian for over 40 years, I have been fighting the good fight. But all is not lost. Libraries will continue to help ready young children for school and they will come away from those experiences as readers. Our library had a story time aimed at grandparents and grandchildren. I don't worry about children and libraries. I am more worried that adults don't know what libraries offer, especially retired folks on fixed incomes. And funny you should be talking about this this week. It was the topic of my blog last week.

    Rosy
    http://rosythereviewer.blogspot.com/2013/11/retirement-and-library-and-week-in.html

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    1. I like the picture of you listening attentively at story time on your blog post.

      You are probably quite right: an adult who wasn't raised on a habit of books and reading is not likely to start later in life. By then, TV viewing and other forms of entertainment are too well ingrained.

      Libraries are a tremendous source of free entertainment and information. I see a lot of older folks at my library branch, reading the paper or magazines, and checking out DVDs. Good for them.

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  13. I don't think technology will forever replace sitting quietly with a book, but I'm ok with the grandsons reading from their tablets. The oldest, he's 11, has been way ahead of the curve with reading for years. I have to tell him to keep me abreast of what he's read so I don't get duplicate books for him.

    His younger brother is more physical than cerebral, but he does read online. I say encourage them in any way you can to just read...no matter where the words are!

    The youngest grandson just turned 3 and is, due in large part to his mom being uber creative, learning to read and write. Technology has helped along the way. Some of the tech toys now are so far superior to anything we had, and they subliminally encourage them to learn. I like that a lot.

    I read all the time, but most of it is online. Not that I don't enjoy curling up with a good book, but I spend so much time online it's easy to stop and read newspaper articles, or magazines, etc. and then get back to work. I read on kindle, but when it's a book I want to read, I prefer a real book.
    b

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    1. Our 7 year old grandson is in a charter school where the students are provided with their own iPads in the classrooms. That is a tremendous boon to the students being very comfortable with all the uses of a tablet or pad. They do have plenty of printed books, too, so I assume he is being exposed to both. At home, he is a printed book guy, like his two sisters.

      As soon as I hit publish on this comment I'm picking up a book on the Boxer Rebellion in China!



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  14. I have been a book lover as long as I can remember. (In my childhood, 4 was the limit of books you could take out of the library at once, and I found those decisions agonizing. I envy your grandchildren their 50!) In general, I am resistant to new technology unless I am convinced that it will genuinely improve the quality of my life. (I still don't have a cell phone.) But when I got an e-reader a few months ago, it was a revelation. I'm not ready to give up paper books, but my Nook has definitely improved the quality of my life. When I'm reading academic books with footnotes, I can just touch the number for the footnote and it opens. If I come to a word I don't know, I just put my finger on it and the dictionary opens to give me a definition. I love the fact that I can download e-books from the library even when I can't get there physically. And I love the fact that I can carry around dozens of books in one small package. If I start to read the murder mystery that I've been saving for a long plane flight and discover by page 3 that I've read it before, I just open a different book. When I get on the plane and discover that I'm sitting in a seat with a burned out reading light, I no longer seethe in frustration that I cannot read; I just turn on my e-reader's glow light.
    I don't know what the future of paper books is, but you may be encouraged to know that Marketplace had a story today that independent bookstores seem to be making a comeback. -Jean

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    1. Like you, I have an e-reader and find it perfect in certain situations, like RV trips. The ability to highlight sections, get definitions, or follow other links is a tremendous plus. But, I continue to prefer a physical book whenever possible.

      I hope the future of printed books will be like vinyl records. Given up for dead, they are having a mini revival. While the scratches are still a problem, the sound quality has yet to be equaled by the digital versions.

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