My family reads with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The youngest reads under duress when forced to accrue Accelerated Reader points to pass language arts. In the process, she's found a few books she might publicly admit she enjoyed.
My middle child reads voraciously in spurts as time allows between her other social activities, enjoying many of the books I also enjoy, often reading books behind me, though usually in line after my mom.
My free-spirited eldest won an award for reading 100 books in kindergarten, but never read much as an adolescent. After flying the coop in recent years, he discovered that books about philosophy and sustainable agriculture and making things from scratch (buckskin pants, anyone?) tickle his fancy. He's been tracking down old FOXFIRE books lately.
Some think readers are born. Others believe it takes finding what speaks to a person to make them a reader. I suspect the answer lies between. I can't remember not loving to read, but also identified my reading niche at a very young age, first devouring books about pioneer girls and orphans and huge, all-of-a-kind families, then growing into adult fiction about relationships and family crises and dealing with the world in general. Not much of a stretch from one to the other.
I've tried the last few years, however, to widen my reading experience. I borrow library books I've heard recommended time and again even though they don't fit my usual M.O. Sometimes I grab remaindered hardbacks for a few dollars by authors I've never considered reading. I've discovered there are a lot more fish in the sea of reading and I'm a better person for it, if I do say so myself.
What's been fun lately is seeing others around me branch out, too.
My father-in-law, a retired nuclear physicist who writes poetry and other short forms under the radar, is an obvious intellectual. Yet, in one of our many conversations about books, he freely admitted he rarely read novels by women. I understand. Until the last few years, I rarely read books by men. But shortly before Christmas last year, he emailed me his Christmas wish: Name one book by a female author I'd read in 2009 I'd like him to read. His request flattered and challenged me. I went a step further and recommended two. (And, of course, we purchased those books as gifts.)
This recent feedback from made me smile.
"I did it, I finished HOME (Marilynne Robinson). And I was astounded and moved by much of the writing: some really remarkable descriptions, dialogs, and turns of phrase. I found it a bit difficult getting into at the beginning; sometimes I lost track of who was speaking in extended scenes of conversation; and sometimes I wanted to inflict great bodily harm on one or all of the characters. But altogether wonderfully writ. I thought of COLD MOUNTAIN as I read HOME. Both novels were challenging to read in spots and required some will power to keep after them; but both were eminently satisfying and of both I said "Wow!" when I finished. Fine literature indeed."
"I finally finished reading THE HELP, and I really enjoyed it. It is quite an achievement for a first novel, or any novel for that matter. I notice it is #1 or 2 or so on many best seller lists at present. She (Kathryn Stockett) certainly did a fine job of drawing upon her own experiences of life and place. The characters really rang true and resonated with me from some of my 60's memories even though I lived in 'the north' until '69. An altogether gripping and entertaining read. Thanks for selecting it for us."
My husband seemed an enthusiastic part-time reader for years, going through two or three books during holidays or on vacations. This year, though, he's burned through so many, my own little reading log is cringing in shame. (And a man who reads is an attractive man, indeed. Just saying.) After consuming a forest of books, he's run out of his favorites – thrillers and mysteries by Steve Berry, Harlan Coben, Stieg Larsson, Dan Brown, and Tom Clancy, to name a few.
He decided to postpone another trip to the bookstore last week, but was antsy without something new to read. I got sneaky. I casually handed him a few novels I'd purchased and said, "You might like these. I don't know what they're like because I haven't read them yet." And guess what? He doesn't have to give up his man card because they're by men, but I'm almost certain A RELIABLE WIFE by Robert Goolrick and SECRETS OF EDEN by Chris Bohjalian are unlike anything he's ever read.
The jury's still out on the Bohjalian, though he's about a third in and says he likes it so far. HOORAY! I love Bohjalian's books. He wasn't crazy about the Goolrick novel, going so far as to compare it to "one of those bodice ripper things," (not that he's ever read one ... or so he says). Still, he plowed through and said it had some interesting twists and turns. He claims I better hurry up so we can compare notes because I'm falling behind. :) I'm sure he'll mostly stick with his favorite genres and authors in the future, but I think he's enjoying branching out a bit, and I'm enjoying watching.
I received a text message from my daughter yesterday. Yes, from school.
Her: I finished LOVE IN THE PRESENT TENSE.
Me: Did you like it?
Me: Cool. I love that book!
I'd mentioned this Catherine Ryan Hyde novel to her a few weeks ago as something I thought she'd enjoy and we found it at the library. (BT-dubs, who has my signed copy?! Gail?! This blog is beginning to serve as a GPS for locating loaned books. Ha.)
Anyway, I think there's a point to this post. It goes something like this:
People like what they like. But sometimes they're just waiting for you to help them get out of their reading comfort zones. Sometimes they're brave enough to ask for your assistance, and sometimes they're just waiting for you to knock them over the head with new books when they least expect it.
Regardless, the connection we gain by sharing out-of-the-box reading experiences with friends and family can be priceless.
Photo credit: he(art)geek's flickr photostream by Creative Commons license