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.