Friday, October 07, 2005

The Good Germ.

It is sad (extremely sad) to me that so many people have robbed themselves (or have been robbed, whatever the case may be) of the ability to appreciate the wealth of vicarious experience that is bursting out of any good piece of literature. It is why I think that literacy programs are so important. Reading.... and I mean the ADDICTION to reading, is one germ that, if caught early enough, cannot possibly do harm. It can only do good. It can only be beneficial.
Just a few moments ago, in this very Chapters bookstore I am in right now, two ladies came in, with three kids distributed among them. The kids took off in all directions throughout the store and the ladies sat at a table in the Starbucks and drank coffee. Then one of the kids, a boy, I would say about twelve years old, came running back with this book in his grubby kid-hands, and he was waving it in front of his mom.... bursting right into the two ladies’ conversation ruder than a mongoose and shouting “This is the book I want. Teacher said it had to be 100 pages and this one is like 102, and I want to get it because it has my name in it.”
The mom took it from his hands, and I looked over to try and see what it was.... I could see some devil or demon on the cover (I’m not kidding) and the title was something like Hell’s Bastard or whatever.... I think you know what I mean right? The author probably unintentionally wrote the whole thing in one afternoon after eating magic mushrooms.
The mom is looking at the price of the book, that being the only criteria that is important to her.
The kid, sensing that Mom is not quite sold on the Satanic theme and all, grabs it back from her and closes the deal.... “Look, the main character has my name, this is the book I want.”
She acquiesced, and the kid, victorious, left the book on the table and tore off in search of other affirmations of his identity (I guess).
Maybe I am being sort of harsh here, but the whole scene says a lot of things to me. Firstly, the kid would probably not be reading anything at all if it was not a requirement from school. I can live with that, it is one thing (the main thing) I think that schools should emphasize with young kids.... LITERACY SKILLS. So, perhaps the kid will catch the good germ in this way. Secondly though, he leaves the book on the table and runs off. He has no interest in the value of that book. He is already, in fact, avoiding its presence in his life. OK.... let’s leave the kid alone now. The saddest thing about the story involves the person who will pay for that book at the cash register. The parent has nary a clue as to what the boy ought to be reading. No suggestions. No guidance down an avenue of life that is so woefully neglected, and yet so important.

Has this mother of a young boy never heard of Mark Twain, Roald Dahl, or J.R.R. Tolkien? Never heard of Arthur Conan Doyle or Rudyard Kipling or C.S. Lewis? Stephen Crane? Daniel Defoe? H.G. Wells or Robert Louis Stephenson or Jack London or Kenneth Grahame or Jules Verne or Charles Dickens or Lewis Carroll or Alexandre Dumas?
In other words, what is more sad? That Jonnee kant reed? Or that his muther duzznt no probbly howw 2teech him reed to?
Again, not to be overly critical of this kid, but chances are, if the only reason he wants to read a book is because he sees his own name in it somewhere, he will probably become the kind of adult that overlooks great literature for the remainder of his life.
Which is, in my opinion, a tragedy.
Steer them toward the good stuff as early as possible, I say. And of course, you can do only do this if you become familiar with it yourself!


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