Friday, January 8, 2016

The Impact of Reading

this is a posting of an essay I had to write for my English class last semester.    
Some of my childhood books. You can tell I was a re-reader. And yes, The Magician's Nephew is an old library book. I don't think anyone in my family actually knows where it came from or how we got it...
     The words taunted me in the dentist’s office. Amid the sounds of orthodontia installation and friendly greetings from the front desk, I had buried myself beneath a pile of magazines in the waiting room. While flipping through the pages of a rather average “family” periodical—the name of which I’ve since forgotten— I discovered an article that irked me. The subject matter of the article was optimistic enough, that of encouraging children and young adults to read. But the line that set me off? “It doesn’t matter what they are reading, so long as they are reading.”
     Perhaps from a purely pragmatic point of view, this was in a sense true. If the ultimate goal of the statement (and article) was to familiarize children and young adults with the letters and sounds of the written word, then I suppose mindless reading of any material has merit. However, no reading is truly mindless, and while a working knowledge of the English language is all very well and good, words are not just words: they are ideas. The vowels and consonants do not exist in a vacuum, and their educational value is worth only so much as their meaning. A single word may be benign, but a string of them together, combined with the correct punctuation, can become magical, or even dangerous. It’s the very reason that literature of various types has been lauded, revered, banned, and censored throughout the ages. And the books we read as children stay with us as perhaps no other words do.
     Often, I wonder if my love of history was born from the American Girl books checked out from my elementary school library. Was it Felicity Merriman’s brave (and sometimes foolish) escapades that gave me such a deep and abiding fascination with the American Revolution? A quick look through my closet shows that even my clothing choices as an adult seemed to have retained the influences of Samantha Parkington, Kit Kitteridge, and Molly McIntire—even without my conscious thought of doing so.
     The books we read as children become a part of us. They affect our perception of things. To this day, mentions of “the moor” give me a thrill as I remember the gloomily beautiful landscape of The Secret Garden. It was Mary, Colin, and Dickon who gave me, if not a love for gardens, than an affinity for secrets—and old English manors. It was for Anne Shirley’s sake that I put up with poetry in high school, and my own secret wish to own a massive tree house and “live off the land”—a desire seemingly at odds with the rest of my personality—can be completely blamed on The Swiss Family Robinson. Perhaps that desire is childish, but I haven’t grown out of it yet: I’m still waiting to own that private island. And while I’ve always loved writing, it was Jo March, scribbling away in her attic, who encouraged me to become a writer myself. From an early age, even before reading the unabridged version of Little Women, she was my role model and inspiration.
     But not all of my childhood reading has been strictly beneficial, morally or educationally. After all, I still have an appreciation for flawless schemes, even if illegal and somewhat questionable, thanks to that conniving Tom Sawyer and his effortless manipulation involving the fence and whitewash. I still can’t get rid of that juvenile admiration for the boldness and brilliance of his plot.
    But if I hadn’t grown up on classics and fairy tales, if I hadn’t devoured non-fiction filled with Ancient Egypt, American heroes, and famous artwork, I would be a completely different person than I am today. Is it true that among the countless books I’ve read as a child that there are some that I don’t remember, some that had no impact upon me other than assisting my journey into literacy? Yes. But at the time, it’s unclear which books will fade into oblivion and which will stay with a child forever. If it doesn’t matter what children are reading, it’s very near to saying that reading itself is worthless. Because if the meaning of the words themselves don’t matter, then what is the point of reading them anyway?


Zoë said...

Beautiful. :]
Hayden, I love your vocabulary - it's delightful to read such interesting thoughts that are written without redundancies, and your excellent choice of words always brings a smile to my face. :]

Hayden said...

Thank you so much, Zoe! That made my day :)

Miss Dashwood said...

LOVE this, Hayden!

Natalie said...

This was so great!! I love your closing lines, especially. And the point you made about how what we read influences who we become--I love it. :)

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