The offspring has always been allergic to books and reading. Considering I spent most of my childhood needing to be surgically extricated from deep within a book, this aberration constantly worried me. I tried everything. Read to him, they said, when he was little. I read until my voice box wore itself out ragged. He was only keen about figuring out how quickly he could shred the book being read and dance on the remains. Staying confined in one place to listen to something being read was blasphemy. He grew. Have books scattered all over the place, and be a reader, the wise ones said. He will begin reading automatically as he sees you reading.
Well, to put things in perspective, when we moved home, one tempo was half filled only with books, and before Marie Kondo got to me, I had every available stacking surface in the home spilling with books. Every evening, the spouse and I read till lights out in pleasant camaraderie. I scattered around children’s books like confetti on the premises hoping that he would find something interesting and read it.
But it was not to be. This was a boy who would not read, no matter how I tried and what I did. By the time he had crossed the first decade of his life, I had painfully made peace with the fact that my son would never be a reader.
On the other hand, me, being a Luddite, was slowly and steadily getting used to the concept of reading online. I’d downloaded the Amazon Kindle app onto my tab, and was enjoying the convenience of reading at call, no matter where I was, without the need to lug around a bagful of books. What also made it convenient was the fact that I could now read in the bedroom after lights out, without needing to position myself awkwardly on the sofa in the living room. I eventually graduated to the Kindle device soon after. The offspring would see me, reading when the house was lights out and come next to me in the dark, staring at the light and the words on the screen. “Whachyu’re reading?” he would ask. “A book,” I would reply. He would be curious, but not curious enough to try to read anything on his own. I downloaded some books I thought he might be interested in, and left them, unattended on the Kindle.
And then it happened one evening. For a long while, there was immense silence from his room. It was unnerving. I called out to him and got a half hearted grunt in response. I rose from my seat and went forth to check. There he was, sprawled on the bed, in starfish position, scrolling through what could only be a book on the Kindle. I held onto the door jamb in shock. I stepped away with footsteps as hushed as I could manage. The kid was reading. Whether on a gadget or on print and paper was immaterial, but the fact that he was actually reading without a gun to his head needed celebration. ‘So what are you reading,” I ask him, when he comes to keep the device back. “Harry Potter and Percy Jackson and Wimpy Kid.” While I seriously doubt he got so much reading done in the course of little over an hour, it was a start and who was I to look a gift horse in the mouth. “You know what the best thing is,” he said, “I can make the font bigger or smaller, and check the meaning of the word right from the screen without needing to go to find the dictionary. And because of the light from the screen, I don’t have to put the light on. And I can put it down and read, and use one hand to scroll and the other hand to eat.” Which, given the humungous tween appetite was a very important factor. It didn’t feel like he had to read a lot, he said, because he just kept scrolling down. Holding a book in his hands intimidated him. A screen to scroll didn’t. This is a different generation, I realise. They consume information differently, and if a device is what it takes to make him comfortable with reading, so be it. After all, stairs or elevators, the aim is always to get us wherever we need to be.
(Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Kindle.)