Saturday, June 26, 2004

Obliterating the needs of the youngest readers

Reading this made me want to scream. Get a grip, woman. Obviously, this lady doesn't have a clue about emerging literacy issues: meaning how to get those younguns to read when they have so many other ways to spend their time such as watching TV and playing on the computer. Her gripe is inappropriately targeted. Many early readers need the reinforcements she complains about.
I'm a reader!'' announced the yellow button. ''How about you?'' I looked at its bearer, a strapping young guy stalking my town's Festival of Books. ''I'll bet you're a reader!'' he volunteered, as though we were two geniuses well met. ''No,'' I replied. ''Absolutely not,'' I wanted to yell, and fling my Barnes & Noble bag at his feet. Instead, I mumbled something apologetic and melted into the crowd.

There's a new piety in the air: the self-congratulation of book lovers. Long considered immune to criticism by virtue of being outnumbered by channel surfers, Internet addicts, video maniacs and other armchair introverts, bookworms have developed a semi-mystical complacency about the moral and mental benefits of reading. ''Books Make You a Better Person,'' a banner outside a Los Angeles school proclaims. Books keep kids off drugs. They keep gang members out of prison. They keep terrorists, for all we know, at the gates. This is what we hear at the 200-odd book festivals that have proliferated across America from San Francisco to New York. This, indeed, is what we hear during the N.B.A. playoffs! City dwellers vote and choose a single book for everyone to read at the same time. ''Read a book, save a life,'' one radio ad intones; and even in the absence of charitable contributions, this is very nearly what we feel we are doing. To be a reader these days is to be a sterling member of society, a thoughtful and sensitive human being, a winner.
She doesn't get that all the hoopla about reading is to catch the ones who might slip through the cracks. My little one does need the extra positive reinforcement this lady complains about. The banners, 'I'm a reader', really help the kids get excited about reading.

On the other hand, you have nerds like me who never needed coaxing. I'm a bona fide book junkie. Have been and always will be. Just a few books I have sitting around include: The Knitting Goddess by Deborah Bergman because I'm getting really interested in figuring out how to knit a shawl, The Rise of The Vulcans: History of the Bush War Cabinet by James Mann, Making Schools Work by William Ouchi, The Sound of Paper by Julia Cameron, her latest, and A Bend in the River by Naipal.

But just because I'm a reader doesn't mean I don't have to be elitist and condescending about reading.