A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Reading: More than Just Rainbows

Did you ever watch Reading Rainbow as a kid? I loved that show, because it glorifies one of my favorite activities - reading! Apparently as a child I loved the Mitzi books, and I can remember having my mom read books like Charlotte's Web to us. My mom set up a library shelf in our house, where we could "check out" books and then return them (mostly I think this was a way of preventing messy books everywhere). When I was young I was very into "series" books - I can still remember where all the Boxcar children, Nancy Drew, and Babysitter's club books are in my elementary school library.

One of the first books I remember thinking deeply about was "Wolf by the Ears" - a fictional tale of a slave on Thomas Jefferson's plantation, who may or not be his daughter. It made me ponder (however briefly) the wrongs of slavery, and humanized a problem that might otherwise have been a dry history text.

Reading has been a big part of my life. So, partially because it was National Volunteer Week, but mostly because I didn't have anything better to do, I volunteered last Thursday with a program called First Book. First Book was started by a lady who was tutoring a kid in a tough school. She asked him to bring a book from home that they could read together - and he brought the phone book. She realized that this kid had no books to read at home.

First Book brings volunteers to classrooms in low-income neighboorhoods, and lets schools purchase books for their students at really low prices (like $1-2 per book). Each time I go, I get to spend about 1 1/2 hours reading to kids in an elementary school, and then get to hand each kid a bag with two books of their very own, to take home. It's like being Santa Clause! This is the 3rd time I've done this, and it is so fun to read to the kids and get them excited about the books. I love reading! I lucked out this time and got to read to a really excited group of kindergartners.

I love reading fun and silly books (Harry Potter!), but as I've grown older I've come to appreciate the power of the written word. Reading increases your learning potential, your vocabulary, your knowledge of the world, and can draw you into a world that is created by the author. Great books even have the power to change us for the better.

In reading "The Good Earth" by Pearl S. Buck, I came across this quote, which she uses at the beginning:

"This was what Vinteuil had done for the little phrase. Swann felt that the composer had been content (with the musical instruments at his disposal) to draw aside its veil, to make it visible, following and respecting its outlines with a hand so loving, so prudent, so delicate and so sure, that the sound altered at every moment, blunting itself to indicate a shadow, springing back into life when it must follow the curve of some more bold projection. And one proof that Swann was not mistaken when he believed in the real existence of this phrase, was that anyone with an ear at all delicate for music would at once have detected the imposture had Vinteuil, endowed with less power to see and to render its forms, sought to dissemble (by adding a line, here and there, of his own invention) the dimness of his vision or the feebleness of his hand."

- Swann's Way by Marcel Proust

I understood this to mean that a truly great piece of music (or art, or a great book) can create a world so real and so true that there isn't a false note in it. A good book creates its own world (or, in the case of non-fiction, explains the world really well). This world sounds/looks/is complete and whole in and of itself. I recently read "Ender's Game" for the first time, and I thought this was applicable, because Ender's world is so engrossing. I don't think in reading the book I ever came to a moment that was "fake" (if that even makes sense?).

So, what books are your favorites? What are your favorite "book worlds"? What do you love or hate about reading?


  1. Hi cousin!
    (this will be my travel blog when I finally leave)

    Sadly I do not read as much as I used to. I don't have a favorite genre either. I tend to wander around bookstores until something strikes my fancy.
    I am currently in a Science Fiction classics class this final quarter. We have read some amazing short stories. My favorites have to be A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury and Leviathan!

    We are currently reading Beggers in Spain by Nancy Kress. A great story about genetically altering babies and the consequences that follow.

    I hope you are doing well!

  2. Oi, that's a tough one! So many good books, such a little comment area...

    One book that totally blew my mind was Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. It's a great book that discusses the similarities between the math of Godel, the music of Bach, and the art of Escher, plus tons of other crazy cool things. It ends up touching on just about everything, including zen koans. Wonderful.

    You mentioned increasing vocabulary--I think growing up I learned at least half of my new words from Calvin and Hobbes, which I still consider quality reading. And finally, I would say that Alice in Wonderland is one of my favorites too.

    Great post!

  3. I loved Reading Rainbow as a kid! I always wanted to be one of those kids who go to talk about their favorite books. I LOVED the Berenstain Bears books, Ramona Quimby, Judy Blume books, Goosebumps, Babysitter's Club... I loved reading as a kid. I definitly learned some good morals from the Berenstein Bear books.

    Sadly, my love for reading seemed to dwindle as I got older and had more "assigned" reading... but I have more recently rediscovered my love for reading. I'm sad that as an English major, I often saw reading as a something I had to do... although sometimes I'd sit back for a moment in the middle of one of my assigned books and think, it's my ASSIGNMENT to read great literature! How cool is that? Anyhow, I'm glad that I've rediscovered how cool reading is. I'm currently reading "Where Angels Fear To Tread." Interesting, especially if you like English culture and want to see a good critique of it.

    It's so great that you volunteered for that program! Maybe Milwaukee has something like that... I should look into it! :-)

  4. And yeah, I spelled definitely wrong. Shucks--the editor in me feels the need to point that out :-)