The Reading of Books

Ever since I learned my ABC’s, I’ve been an avid reader. Sometimes more than others, but I always have a book going. Always. Even if I don’t pick it up for a few days, it sits there taunting me.

I heard a story that sent me into a tailspin of thoughts. There’s a principal of an elementary school who has challenged his students to read 2,000 books. “If they total 2,000 books in the next few months, he says he’ll get a tent and a grill and live on the roof for a while.”

The first thing I noticed about this story is the lack of details. My thoughts were as follows: How many kids are there in the school? 2,000 or 20? What’s the average number of books to be read? What qualifies as a “book”? Are we talking picture books or do they have to be books sans pictures? How does one verify that a book has been read? What’s the time frame? “In the next few months” and “for a while” aren’t very specific terms.

These are questions prompted by an intellect that I could very well blame on my childhood love of reading. I would have been all over that challenge when I was in elementary school. I would have read 100 books myself in a month if it meant a teacher living on the roof in wintertime, but I didn’t have such schadenfreudic motivation when I was a kid. When I was in elementary, we had a reading progress chart on the wall that looked something like this:


For every book we read, we got another sticker. We had to do a simple, one-page book report proving we had read it or at least proving that we had taken the time to fake reading it. My name had a shit ton of stickers next to it. Stickers were a huge motivator for me. I had a sticker book. Anyway, it was me and Kristen J., my best friend, who were competing to reach the end of the chart first. The rest of the kids were eating our dust. We had no idea what would happen if we reached the end, but dammit, we were going to find out.

Well, Kristen J. won because Kristen J. always won. She was just a little smarter and a little faster than me. We were very disappointed to find out that, not only did nothing happen when we reached the end of a row, but we didn’t even get to keep the stickers we had earned! The stickers stayed on the chart on the wall taunting us with their permanence. This is some bullshit! Well, we probably didn’t express it exactly that way since we were kids.

Kristen J. and I didn’t let total crushing defeat stop us from reading. Although, once we realized that there was no reward besides “increasing your own knowledge,” as our teacher frustratingly put it, we did retard our breakneck reading pace some. We read for our own benefit despite knowing that was entirely our teacher’s point.

These are the things that flashed through my mind as I heard that story. I thought about stickers. Oooh, STICKERS! I wondered, in this digital age, what are kids reading these days? Are they still reading proper books with color pictures in them or are they all digital copies now? Do they each have their own little e-reader? Will there come a day when there are no physical books in school at all?

I’m not necessarily opposed to that. I’m not a Luddite. I don’t have an e-reader and I’m not likely to get one anytime soon, but that’s my choice. I prefer borrowing books from the library that I can throw in a bag and that don’t need charging. I like the feel, smell, heft and easy browsability of traditional books. That said, I am all for reading in whatever form it takes. Reading is as important a part of growing up as learning how to tie one’s shoes. Kids need books period.

Kudos to that principal for trying to inspire reading. I hope he ends up living on the roof for “a while.”