1. I horde books. It seems obvious, considering the title, but you need to understand what I mean. I didn’t really know this about myself until I bought an e-reader, thinking my love for books would have ample room to grow in the 1,000+ capacity libraries they offered, but when I started buying books I wanted to, for lack of a better word, touch them. I wanted to feel that paper bend and snap as I fingered the next page. I wanted to close the book and slide it onto my bookshelf, looking at its grand place in my entire library. Being denied that satisfaction with my little nook, I haven’t really touched it since.
Note: It’s possible to read that entire paragraph as a long double entendre, and I’m not so sure it isn’t.
2. I have spent extra money for a book with greater aesthetic appeal. I was in Barnes & Noble the other day, looking for a copy of Sandburg’s Chicago Poems, and couldn’t bring myself to resist the beautiful cover of one copy (a $5 more expensive copy), when the alternative was a bland and, quite frankly, ugly, even if it was cheaper. I bought that book with the knowledge that when I finished it, I would proudly place it on my shelf, and such an experience should never be ruined by a hideous cover.
3. I have never had a B&N giftcard for more than a week. Never. I think my record was five days before I cracked and went to satisfy that primal literary urge.
We can’t go a day without being reminded of the next generation’s total animosity, or at least apathy towards reading. The books palatable to them are generally graphic, sensual, and never classics, their only exposure to them coming from unpleasant experiences of forced English assignments. And this is the trouble with classics in literature: not the actual content, but rather the format and conditions under which they are presented.
First of all, the would-be reader is forced to read, a prospect which no one enjoys, and especially not children. Forced or not, oftentimes this potential bibliophile is presented with a copy that is thick, densely worded, and looks like it came from the 19th century
(which it might’ve). If we are so desperate to make our children read (specifically, want to read), why do we put up obstacles like poor typeface, a disintegrating binding, and a cover that could be great fiction or an owner’s manual? Say what you want about judging a book by its cover, but that’s why books have covers.
The best way to encourage reading is not by force, but by a feigned inaccessibility. As Steinbeck relates in Travels With Charley, his own childhood had a, “great dark walnut bookcase with…glass doors” in which was housed, “strange and wonderful things.” He goes on to say that his, “parents never offered them, and the glass doors obviously guarded them, and so I pilfered from that case. It was neither forbidden or discouraged. I think today if we forbade our illiterate children to touch the wonderful things of our literature, perhaps they might steal them and find secret joy.” If we combine the readable books with a quality of forbidden treasure, as was Steinbeck’s case, perhaps children won’t be so quick to spurn the written word. I can’t remember my parents ever encouraging me to read, but they never had to. Literature was always a part of my life. Now, I can’t say whether or not my love of books comes from an internal predisposition or through the quasi-apathetic actions of my mother and father towards reading, but it certainly couldn’t hurt. Since I came to reading on my own, it wasn’t some chain that genetics forced me to rebel against. The title, perhaps, is a tad bit of hyperbole. But the basic premise stands; children hate doing what they’re supposed to do almost as much as they love doing something they’re not supposed to do.
Classics, however, pose a unique and difficult situation. The child must be hooked as early as he can comprehend it, or they’ll fall exclusively into the young adult literature hell hole, and more “literature” like Twilight will be turned out year after year. I remember reading
Johnny Tremain for the first time, around the third or fourth grade, and I knew I could never again settle for the seemingly mass-produced literature turned out by the current authors writing for my age groups. I saw how language could be used, manipulated, could convey emotions and stories, but more than that. I saw that words could transfer those emotions to me, drag me along with the plot as an ecstatic stowaway. I firmly believe that if someone experiences the wit and style in Pride and Prejudicebefore Twilight, or the terse brilliance of Of Mice and Men, they could never get past Stephanie Meyer‘s second page.