The Joy of Reading

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I cannot read a book to save my life these days.

I have always been the “girl-with-her-nose-in-a-book” type, so this is a strange and unwelcome development.

Has my brain been fried by all of the texting and blog reading I’ve done? Do I need the back light of a screen? The back and forth between comments and commenters? The bells and whistles and rabbit holes? I don’t really know why I can’t read a book. But unless I’m on vacation/have no access to my iPad, I can’t get through a hard-bound publication. Maybe this is why I see people now featuring photos of themselves with neat, olde thyme-y vintage books in pictorials and in Kinfolk: perhaps reading a book is now an aspirational goal?

On the other hand, I can read aloud. That holds my attention properly. The twins and I have been reading the Little House books. It’s a strange thing to revisit a book that you read as a child when you are an adult. I didn’t originally notice Ma’s casual racism nor did I note how odd it was that Pa moved the family around so much. Nor did I contemplate how dangerous so many of their adventures were. But there are many things to admire, too: the stoicism of the Ingalls, the strong personality of Laura herself (she was tough as nails), Pa’s openheartedness, Ma’s formidable cheerfulness. Most of all, I admire how much they made from scratch.

Can you imagine a family moving to a wilderness area today and building their own house from nearby trees and rocks and mud? That’s what the Ingalls did in Little House on the Prairie. Or managing a full, self-sustaining farm, as the more prosperous Wilders did in Farmer Boy? Ten year old Almanzo played a crucial part in growing the family’s food. Of course, he also played a crucial part in EATING a lot of that food, too. So many of the scenes featured a famished Almanzo eating the largest array of food imaginable, including the ever-intriguing “Bird’s Nest Pudding.” (What WAS that, anyway? I still want to know.) My daughter asked me the other day, “Why don’t we make more stuff?” A good question, and something I find myself increasingly eager to do.

Have you re-read any books you loved as a child and noticed nuances and character flaws you didn’t the first time around? Do you also have difficulty concentrating while reading a “real” book?

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “The Joy of Reading

  1. Hmm. I don’t try to dissect childhood books. There is a reason I loved them before, so I don’t want to tarnish their memory by my adult perceptions… if that makes sense?
    And if by real books you mean non-fiction, then yes, I definitely have trouble reading those!

  2. I am currently reading Infinite Jest, so yes, I’m having trouble concentrating! Kindle reports that I’m 22% done in only six weeks! Sigh 🙂

  3. It’s interesting you mention this now because I just embarked on the audiobook of the third piece in the Ender’s Game series. I LOVED Ender’s Game in middle/high school and worried it wouldn’t hold up but re-reading it again (with the 7th grader I drive to and from school half the week) I absolutely LOVED it. Reading the second installment and now starting the third what I have been struck with is how LITTLE I remember of those books. While I remembered all of Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide are totally foreign to me, though I know I read them. It makes me wonder how many amazing things I’ve read that have been completely wiped from my memory by time. A sad thought to be sure.

    I’ve definitely heard that some books don’t hold up well to the transition from childhood o adulthood. Catch-22 is one of those books so I will never read it again, because I loved it as a Sophmore in high school. I don’t want it to be ruined now.

  4. I think it’s a little bit scary if the technology is taking over other reading time, like real books, I mean if that’s not what you want. I notice the same with myself, it takes longer to finish an actual book because there are so many other distractions (good and bad) around. A little bit of ‘I’m just checking this first’ easily ends up eating away at that time.

  5. Teenaged Me would never believe how few books I read these days. :p I think it’s a combination of technology distraction and adult responsibilities.

    I haven’t re-read any of my childhood favourites lately… but I remember reading as an adult about how politically incorrect they were. I loved the Bobbsey Twins & Nancy Drew books as a child, and I know that later editions were somewhat whitewashed, but my mother’s older editions are full of swarthy villains with foreign accents — and I distinctly remember a picnic with the Bobbseys’ black servants, Sam and Dinah, eating (I kid you not) fried chicken & watermelon.

  6. We’re reading the Little House books, too … I read Farmer Boy with my son last year (he also remarked on the food, and we laughed at how much he ate or thought about eating), and he’s taken a sudden interest in early American history, so we started in on some of the others. I love them, too … there’s so much subtlety, but also such rich, beautiful description. I read the Phantom Tollbooth with my son last year, too, and we’ve just about exhausted the Boxcar Children. 🙂

    (And loribeth, I remember Sam and Dinah’s fried chicken and watermelon picnic, too! Huh!!)

    I have a hard time reading adult fiction, though … simply because I don’t have long stretches of empty time to luxuriate in it. But this year I joined a book group that has been active for five years, which motivates me (or shames me) to read one book a month, chosen by one of its members. I like it because I end up reading a lot of things I wouldn’t have chosen for myself, but which are really fabulous (the group is full of smart, kind, well-read people … it’s really a dream book group, and I’m still not sure how I got the invite last year!). Peer pressure really does work for me.

  7. Daniel is a little young for my favorites, but I look forward to starting Harry Potter w/ him in a few years. He LOVES The Little Red Caboose, but the illustrations are straight out of the 50s, which is awkward. I love Anne of Green Gables, but her adoption and the reactions to it make me feel completely differently about the book.

    I definitely read less than I did pre-child. Part of it is the distraction & fatigue; a lot of it is due to my love for my iPhone. I think I read a lot, but it isn’t in the form of a book.

    I love fiction, but as a download, it still isn’t cost-effective for me because I read it quickly. Non-fiction works better for me. Takes longer to read.

  8. You know what book I’ve heard a lot of people make that observation about? They really liked it as children, but re-reading it as adults they thought it was boring and saccharine. I have all the Little House books in my basement, so I’ll have to try rereading some of them. I still read a lot, often at the expense of other things I should be doing. I just couldn’t live without it!

  9. Sarah

    I never read the Bobbsey Twins as a kid, but I collect old books and came across the series at an antique place in MO and picked them up. I was reading the first one and realized that it was absolutely never going to be read by my kids – there was an extremely racist passage in the very beginning that shocked me to the core! Thank goodness my mom taught me that you should always read the books you bring home for your kids BEFORE they do. Gah.

    http://www.crackerscentral.com/enjoyeverysandwich/2005/11/bobbsey-twins-uncut.html

  10. L

    Funny you mention Little House Books. I just read a short blurb about them in Saveur, which had many of the same impressions as you did, including the Birds Nest Pudding: http://www.saveur.com/article/Kitchen/Saveur-100-Little-House-on-the-Prairie-Cooking

    • Thanks for that link! What a cool article – and what a great site 🙂 My mom read this post the other day and she’s sending me the Little House Cookbook, complete with the Bird’s Nest Pudding. We may attempt to make it?

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