When I was six years old, I got sick and had to stay in bed for a couple of weeks. My uncle brought me a book called “Just So Stories.” It didn’t have many pictures.
This kind of book was new to me. After reading several of the stories, I noticed that there was something consistent about them. Then it dawned on me that when a person wrote a book, they didn’t just come up with a story, they also figured out how to tell it.
I looked at the cover again and below the title it said: By Rudyard Kipling.
I didn’t know whether Rudyard was a man’s name or a woman’s, whether they were young, old, alive or dead. All I knew — though I couldn’t articulate it then — was that they had a distinctive voice.
I sensed that this Kipling person enjoyed writing every story just as much I enjoyed reading it.
For a child like me, this was particularly important, because I only learned most things they taught us in school, because the lessons were forced upon me. But once I realized that reading meant seeing the world through the authors’ eyes, I took to reading by choice, and this changed my life.
Reading is credited for sparking imaginations, improving vocabularies, and lengthening attention spans, but I feel that it goes beyond that. Good stories, poems and essays all have a foundation of continuity.
As readers, we unconsciously come to expect this. An author may create a wild and fanciful universe unlike our own, but that universe, too, abides by certain rules – as do the characters.
I think that avid readers may learn to spot inconsistencies, identify faulty reasoning and see through gross generalizations and irrationality more naturally than non-readers do. For example, I suspect that spotting “holes” in a plot requires the same kind of intelligence it takes to spot “holes” in a political speech, a personal alibi or a sales agreement. Moreover, books are linear, and they are not over, until they are over. This may make avid readers more inclined to withhold judgment and to be less swayed by short-lived enthusiasms than non-readers.
But reading is more than a rigorous mental exercise. Books remind us that we are part of something that transcends culture, country, race, time or religion. The more we read, the more clearly we come to understand that we are all shaped, at the core, by a mysterious force called “human nature.” This helps us to inhabit our rightful place in the vast context of eternity; knowing we think, feel and do much of what has been, said, done and thought before …and will be again.
Discovering that first wonderful book can be a pivotal point in a child’s life. Because I remember my own turning point so clearly, I believe that providing children with access to an eclectic assortment of good books is every bit as important as teaching them to read.