I got home from my last meeting of the day and joined the family for dinner in the kitchen. Sonja had made pasta with broccoli and meatballs, and I was grateful not to have to forage for my own dinner when I walked in, tired and hungry, at the end of thirteen hours. Eventually, Zooey stopped eating her food and started rubbing it in her hair, the end result being nothing short of spectacular in my opinion.
The cherubs fed, I took Titus upstairs and read to him. He loves reading, and I love that. I was informed that earlier in the day he corrected mom when she attempted to read Esta es la Oveja Verde? to him in English, and I harbor hopes that he and his sister will be voracious consumers of literature as they age. Titus requested The Sneetches again last night, and then the back matter of the book which are three terrific short stories. We ended with the “Sleep softly” book, an abbreviated version of Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book wherein our tradition is for me to tickle him mercilessly when we get to the page about the Foona Lagoona Baboona. It seems to tire him out for bed, and he occasionally requests a second helping of tickles, a request to which I’m always more than happy to acquiesce. His laughter makes me happy. Our books read, I placed him in his crib along with Mickey, Dragon, Grinch, Lorax, Cookie Monster, Mr. Triceratops, ‘Raff, and the rest of his bedtime entourage, then dimmed his light and retired downstairs to grade for a while.
I was mostly finished grading, and primarily just wanted to email my students about their final grades. After an hour or so, Sonja joined me and together we went out onto the front porch to enjoy yet another beautiful pre-summer evening with a glass of wine. While there, I started to receive text messages from a friend, as part of a group text. They began with:
“Help me win 3 free books! Fill in the blank: Reading is__________________.”
Responses began to roll in:
“Exploring a whole new world just by turning a page.”
“The path to becoming a lifelong learner.”
“My step away from reality.”
And more. I agreed with all of these; they remind me of why I read. In particular, escapism resonates, but also the learning part. I feel I grow to empathize with new groups of people, unfamiliar groups at times, through books. I’ve read half a dozen novels so far this year, and can almost feel my brain grow as I do. I thought of one of my graduate students whose thesis was about “aliteracy” — in essence, being able to read but only doing it when you’re forced to. I thought about Mark Twain’s infamous “The man who doesn’t read has no advantage over the man who can’t,” which has always resonated with me. Then I thought about how I spend so many hours of my life, tapping away at this computer, blogging yes, but also writing poetry, academic articles, and hopefully by the end of the summer, completing my first novel. Finally, I responded to the text.
“Reading is the only way to get any good at writing.”
I tell my English students this, though many could care less if they are good at writing. But mostly, I remind myself of this. Through reading, I discover new turns of phrase, learn new words, hone the keen edge of syntax until at last I might from time to time say something that sounds even a little bit original. I don’t claim to be a great writer — in fact the word I often use is “functional,” but I don’t deny that I have some ability in this area either. It’s just that I’m always getting better at it, and I do that by reading.
I pondered these things as I sat on the front porch with my wife, sipping wine and discussing our lives. We have few complaints these days, though it does seem that everything costs more money than is used to or than it should. The wine we were drinking was a Vinho Verde, a white wine produced primarily in Portugal and typically served young. This three-year-old was already beginning to show signs of age, in particular in the caramelized hints it gave off on the palate. Youthful and refreshing with a vibrant nose, the 2015 Via Latina Vinho Verde abounds with flavors of green apple and pear, with subtle nutty hints that caramelize towards the finish. Clean and refreshing, it’s yet another great pairing for a patio in good weather.
Reading is… everything. I read to my family and to hone my mind, and I write about them too. You read. You read this blog and surely many other things. I can’t imagine a world without reading any more than I can imagine a world without wine, though to be honest if I had to give one of them up, I’d sooner sacrifice wine than literacy. That’s what reading is to me, and writing too, of course. But writing is by and large a pursuit only of value when others are literate; I wouldn’t write this blog if you didn’t read it. Thank you for reading it.
Cheers to reading,