I have to read 62 books to complete the master's degree I'm working on. This may sound extreme, but for me, it's no big thing. I love to read.
When I was a little girl, I slept with comic books under my pillow. My early readers were MAD Magazine and The Archie Digest. I was devoted to such comic heroes as Wonder Woman, Richie Rich and Dennis the Menace. In fact, most of what I know today about Washington, D.C.'s historic sites came from the special edition when Dennis and his family went there on vacation.
I moved on from the comics and read the trashiest stuff I could find. Jacqueline Susann's "Valley of the Dolls" and Ira Levin's "Rosemary's Baby" were a couple of my favorites. I read them in sixth grade.
I grew up, became a mom and presumed that my kids would escape into the land of books with abandon like I had. They didn't. My two oldest sons read only when forced to, and with resentment. I was stunned. Who were these people? They were headed for middle school and still considered reading a form of punishment.
My husband and I formulated a plan. We got four copies of Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" and sat around the kitchen table every night taking turns reading aloud. From there, we moved on to Stephen Crane's "The Red Bad of Courage," and they finally realized we weren't playing around.
My eldest son, who now has a B.A. in business management, got into Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels. My second son, the rocket scientist (he was a physicist at NASA before he went to medical school) got hold of a copy of Ken Follett's "The Pillars of the Earth."
It was a paperback copy and he read until it fell apart. Literally. I found pages everywhere, in the bathroom and in other less-expected places. When he finished, he jammed all the loose pages back in and asked who wanted to read it next. Nobody did.
My daughter was much easier. She sprang from the womb with a "Calvin and Hobbes" anthology under her arm and rarely looked up until she learned to drive. Did I mention she had a perfect score on the verbal SAT?
Then came my youngest son, who is 14. He wants facts, concrete information about the real world, and has no interest in comics. He kind of likes the Eyewitness Books, but not enough to look beyond the pictures. Want to know how we hooked him? The Post and Courier. There's a new one on the kitchen counter every day.
Bobby: "Mom, why is there a picture of a policeman/fire/horse/the president/guy in handcuffs/car wreck in the paper?"
Me: "I don't know. Read the story."
I probably said that at least 32,000 times before he actually read the story, but now he reads beyond the captions. I know we're making progress because he read a few of Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events" this summer.
So here are a few random thoughts on fostering a love of reading.
At the beginning of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird," young Scout has a run-in with her first-grade teacher, Miss Caroline. It seemed that Miss Caroline disapproved of teaching methods other than her own, and she'd told Scout she must stop reading at home.
Scout fumed inwardly: "Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing." To her father, Scout declared she'd rather quit school than give up reading.
I know exactly how she feels.
Today, literacy improvement is one of the Charleston County School District's strategic priorities. I believe that if our kids were reading with the passion of Scout Finch, Charleston County Superintendent Nancy McGinley would swagger down Broad Street rapping "Yadi Ya" just like Missy Elliot.
There's something about stories that enrich the human soul. Fluent readers who've made the leap beyond comic books are carried off to worlds they've never dreamed of and are better equipped to engage in the real world they live in.
When the lines separate into words, and then the words become ideas and images, that's when the magic begins.
Betsy Kalman lives in Charleston, has four children, and is a graduate student at Seattle Pacific University. She grew up without cable TV or video games, as did her three oldest children. None of the 62 books required by Seattle Pacific University nor The Post and Courier could be considered "trash." Betsy would never advocate giving an 11-year-old a copy of "Rosemary's Baby" and wonders what the heck her parents were thinking.