Wednesday, December 5, 2007

What Makes a Reader?

In "A Good Mystery: Why We Read"* Motoko Rich asks, ". . . what is it, exactly, that turns someone into a book lover who keeps coming back for more?" He posits that discovering the right book at the right time is what transforms an ordinary person into a rabid reader. He devotes the rest of his article to describing the characteristics of particular books which can trigger a lifetime of continuous reading.

I don't doubt that some people can look back on the reading of a particular book which marked the boundary between reading as a chore and reading as a pleasure. Though I think, particularly when this transformation takes place in childhood, that what is really taking place is an increased facility in reading which allows a person to finally experience the pleasure of the written word.

I can't seriously believe in the trigger theory.

That's like believing that somewhere in the world is one particular person who is your Own True Love and that unless you meet him, romantic love will be a closed book to you. But once you do, bingo! Personally, I would think that having developed the capacity to love unselfishly would be the crucial prerequisite.

Similarly, I have my own ideas about what makes a child develop into a voracious reader. I think that it is crucial that a child should have discovered the joys of listening to stories long before he is old enough to begin to read. And for that to take place children should be exposed to verbal stimulation early on.

In other words, parents should talk to their little ones in a playful, interactive way. And they should read aloud to them. Even when the story is a little over their heads, the language pathways are being laid down in their little brains. You're giving them a chance to associate reading with pleasure. However, for optimal results you've got to cut back or eliminate television viewing. (Ditto video games.)

I think it also helps if you continue to read aloud even after your children have learned to read. Children can understand and enjoy more complex stories than they are able to read to themselves. Hearing their parents read aloud helps children to increase their vocabularies -- which will help to make reading easier.

Anyway, that's what worked for me. And I guess it worked for my mom. She wasn't trying to turn any of us into bookworms, but the first couple of children did become voracious readers. And those were the kids with whom she'd had time to regularly read aloud stories. As the family grew larger (Twins! And More!), she no longer had time to read aloud. And the later children didn't get into reading in the same way that the early ones did.

N.B. Catholic Bibliophagist is aware that both nature and nurture are involved in a child's development and that not all children will become avid readers. But she thinks that most kids are capable of becoming better readers than they might otherwise.

*Free registration at the New York Times site required.


Jeff Miller said...

I would also tend to doubt the single book at the right time theory. Though it could be partially finding a genre that appeals to you in the first place. For me it was SF that really got me reading before I opened myself to a wider range or reading.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Yes, I'd agree.

Though some of us seem to have inborn programming that trips the pleasure circuits when we read almost anything. Why is that?

a kelly said...

We were voracious readers and loved reading to our daughter. She loved it too until she had to read them herself. She loved hearing the book, talking about the book but didn't want to read them herself. How mortified was I when I went to grade 8 parent/teacher night and found out she hadn't handed in a book report for 4 months...I was certain that she had a learning disability!
Well she schmoozed her way through school, never the academic but with enough verbal skills to talk rings around anyone, beating a PhD student at Scrabble and winning the English dept award in grade 12!! I am quite certain she watched the videos or got the audio cds and never read a book. What she did do was tutor the ESL students and they said she explained everything better than the teacher. She has read 1 book in the 5 years since leaving school.
Glad you added the the "N.B.".

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

But I'm sure that the reading aloud you did when she was young was crucial in developing her excellent verbal skills and her listening ability. And those are very important.

Personally, I think listening to audio books counts as reading and that students who have physical or neurolgical difficulties with conventional reading should be allowed to avail themselves of it.

One of my sons was dyslexic and was slow in becoming a reader. But starting in first grade, I read aloud to him those books which interested him but which he couldn't yet handle on his own. Eventually, he learned how to handle the fact that sometimes the letters would "mix-up" on the page. Perhaps his dyslexia was mild. (He never did conquer the dysgraphia.)