I went to a middle school that was new and apparently modern in its approach to education, as was its principal. My mother never cared for his new ideas that allowed kids to touch the walls as they walked down the hallway or even skip if they wanted, but I always liked the guy. He had an assistant principal who cracked the whip, which left him free to be more high-minded.
The building had educational wings that spread out from the center, and in that center was a two-story, glass-walled library you could see from almost any spot throughout the day. I didn't think this thoroughly when I was 11, but now in retrospect, I believe that library with its transparent walls was a metaphor for education and the new principal's ideas—education should be approachable and attainable and not something kept out of reach of a kid standing on tip-toes. Just an idea.
Anyway, that library and the experiences I had there were the inspiration for this opinion piece in today's edition of Small Town Newspaper:
Drop Everything And Read Day
Today, educators and librarians around the country are encouraging families to read together on what has been designated National Drop Everything And Read Day. It’s a day meant to remind families of the importance of reading by turning off everything, things like televisions and computers and mp3 players, and sitting down with a book for at least 30 minutes.
This day was chosen because it’s the birthday of Beverly Cleary, famed American author born in 1916. Cleary said, “Children should learn that reading is pleasure, not just something that teachers make you do in school.” As a librarian, she heard so many children complain about the sorts of books available to them, saying they wanted books about children more realistic, more like them. So, she set out to write those books, giving generations of children characters like Ramona and Beatrice Quimby, Henry Huggins and a host of others.
Ralph S. Mouse is the Cleary character that stands out from my childhood. I remember exploring my school’s library shelves and finding the book “Runaway Ralph,” the second book in a trilogy written by Cleary. I took the book home and read it cover to cover, completely taken in by the adventurous spirit of a mouse with a motorcycle. For some reason, I never read the other two books in the series, but I bet I read “Runaway Ralph” three or four times that school year. The experience helped develop a life-long love of reading and led me to relish time spent among library and bookstore shelves to this day.
My mother set an example as a reader as well. When I was growing up, she followed a guide that helped her read the Bible in a year’s time, and she read edited novels from the Reader’s Digest Condensed Book club. I remember her settling in on the sofa after dinner each evening with her feet propped up on a footstool and the corner lamp turned on full tilt. She would thumb the corners of the pages as she read, and that fidgeting produced a steady scratching sound, something I came to think of as a kind of reading rhythm.
Later in the evenings, I took over that sofa for my own reading, although I was more inclined to sprawl out as I read my favorites—“A Tale of Two Cities,” “To Kill A Mockingbird” and just about anything written by John Steinbeck. Paperback or hardback, new or used, it didn’t matter. I loved the entire sensory experience—the weight of the book in my hands, the smell of the paper, the worn texture of the older books and the crisp ink of the newer ones.
I still have quite a few of those old books in my collection, and in their pages are hidden memories like bookmarks, old train tickets and receipts from a store in my town with a used-book section. Most of those books have dog-eared pages, weathered edges and spines not treated too gingerly. And the best ones are those that are lived in and show just how many times they’ve been opened and read and appreciated.
I know people for whom traditional books hold no such charm, and e-book readers are the new way to read. The new iPad displays pages side by side and even has a faux gutter and shading in the center to suggest the curving of paper, so what’s to miss? But I appreciate the tactile experience of reading traditional books, books that can be kept and shared and worn in; books that can be cherished, not just for their content, but for their form.
Of course, the point of Drop Everything And Read Day is to read for yourself and as an example to others regardless of whether your book is digital or traditional, whether what you’re holding is made of plastic and glass or you can thumb the actual pages, whether it’s odorless or smells of aged paper and leather. So, read today in the way that suits you because reading in any form really is a pleasure. I’ll be doing my reading camped out on the sofa with a traditional book in my hands, creating my own reading rhythm and soaking up the complete experience.