My granddaughters love to read. They come from a long line of readers, so them reading is doing what comes naturally to them. But their love of books, and specific stories—that is their own.
Like their mother, gran, and great-gran, they love many types of books. And it’s amazing (and wonderful) how much they absorb from the books they read.
Not long ago, I asked two of them to tell me about the books they loved most and why they loved them. Now, they’re young. Six and ten at the time. Yet both articulated the story and their thoughts clearly and a lot more concisely than I have when asked similar questions.
That fascinated me—as their gran but as an author and a human being. Both cut to the core of the book in answering the questions, and what I heard was that it wasn’t the events that occurred in the books that snagged their focus. It was the character’s emotional reaction to those events and whether or not they, as readers, deemed the characters’ actions good, just, or “inappropriate.”
These books clearly helped shape the children’s thoughts and opinions. They processed what they read through their own eyes, and accepted or rejected the conduct, ethics, actions, and attitudes of the characters.
That was expected. It’s what, to some extent, we all do when reading a book. But then something happened that brought in the fascination factor because the totality of the impact of books on us became extremely clear.
I mentioned a book that had been embraced by many and asked if they’d read it. The eldest said, “I started it, but I didn’t finish it.” The other one said, “I read the first page.”
“Why didn’t you finish it?” I asked.
The eldest dipped her chin and said, “Gran, you have to be careful what you put in your head.”
I agreed but said nothing, wanting to see where she went with this.
The younger one didn’t hold back. “If trash goes into your head, trash comes out of your head.”
“Ah, I see.” I heard those words spoken in their mother’s voice. She was guarding their minds. “So your mom said you shouldn’t read it.”
“I didn’t want to read it,” the youngest one said.
“I prefer other books,” the eldest said, exercising the diplomacy of being older.
It was interesting to me that at these young ages, they were already guarding their minds. Yes, mom taught them, but at their ages, they rejected a popular book based on what they thought.
Okay, that’s not just the power of books but also of parenting. However, making judgments on right and wrong, good and bad, worth putting into your mind or not—all of those were personal judgment calls. It fascinated me that they’re made early and they were made on merit.
Now other children have loved that same book. And I’m not saying the book is good or bad, just that it takes on different connotations and is read, processed, and received by different people in different ways.
I have to tell you. I thought about this short little conversation for weeks. I think it stayed with me so long because I needed to broaden my thinking. Before the conversation, my perspective was that mom (or dad) checks out the books, buys the books or gets them from the library, and the kids read them because they’re what they have to read.
But I learned that part of that’s true, but it’s not the whole truth. The kids often choose the books they want to read and if the books don’t meet the kids’ standards, unless forced to read them, they won’t. Parents exercise parental authority, but then from that point, the kids exercise their judgment based on the criteria they set—and that criteria will differ from child to child. It might be that they are guarding their mind. That they do or don’t like the characters. That a story makes them sad or cuts close to the bone on something they’ve experienced, or they don’t know why they do or don’t like it, they just do or don’t like it.
By the same token, with both of the readers, the stories they loved were loved for their characters. Because those characters touched the kids emotionally in tender ways, in just ways, and (with both), in ways that made them laugh. One put laughter at the top of her list. The other likes suspense. Neither cares much for stories without their chosen favorite element.
That realization led me to deduce that kids are as mercurial as adults when it comes to reading. We all have favorites. Favorite books, favorite authors, favorite types of stories. And at times, what we consider favorites changes. Sometimes we need to laugh. Sometimes we need to get mushy, to feel tender. Sometimes we crave action and adventure and we want to solve a mystery or to be thrilled. Sometimes we want to escape our world and get lost in another. And we do. In our books.
Time passes yet this subject continues to ripple through my mind. I’ve discovered that I too play gatekeeper on what I put into my mind. I used to finish every book I started. I don’t anymore. If the story and its characters speak to me, I’m all in. But if it doesn’t, I look for a story that does, saving the other book for another time.
Fascinating subject. One that reveals a lot about the power of books, the power of story, the power of reading and processing what is read. But how we read and when we read what we read says an awful lot about us as people, too.
I looked back at the books I’ve read in the past six months. Fiction and nonfiction. An array of genres, an array of types of stories. The books I finished and most enjoyed had a couple things in common:
- The good guys won.
- The bad guys lost and suffered the consequences of their actions.
- I admired the characters who won because they battled for more than just themselves. The moral issue was bigger, and they fought for it.
- The characters learned something worth learning as a result of their story journey.
I can’t specifically comment on the nonfiction I’ve read during this time because a lot of it was done for research, and this is about pleasure reading. I can say when it comes to nonfiction, I appreciate:
- You might be an expert but this reader is not, and if I can’t get beyond your convincing me you’re the expert and to the meat of the matter, both our efforts are wasted.
- I love inspiring and uplifting nonfiction. Even the darkest information has moments of grace. Nonfiction should, in my humble opinion, include them.
- Cited sources. All facts are not created equal. If you cite a source as a basis for a judgment, then I want to know that source so I can make the call on whether or not I consider that source cite-worthy.
- Nonfiction doesn’t have to be dull as dishwater and bone-dry reading. Many fantastic nonfiction books use the same storytelling techniques that are used in fiction to great purpose.
All this brings me to more questions. This time, of you. I hope you’ll share your answers.
What do you read? Why do you read it? Are you a mercurial reader, who opts for different types of stories based on what’s going on in your life? What are your favorite things about reading? What type of stories do you love best?
In looking harder at this, it became clear that what we read varies as much as why we read what we read. Interesting questions led me to interesting answers.
I hope the questions above intrigue you into answering them. Maybe even share your answers with the rest of us here.
When I answered them, I discovered something unexpected—and I suspect you will, too.
I discovered that books have had a huge hand in shaping my life. Professionally and personally. Mmm, my granddaughter was right about what you put into your mind. Kudos to her (and her mom and dad) on that…
Another lesson learned from my grans.
Mysterious ways, right?