Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Butterfly in the Sky

I'm a reader. I read things. Papers, magazines, books- hell, I know the active ingredient in most toiletries found within typical range of the bathroom sink (least fun Kings category ever, btw). I read at lunch, I read on the subway, I read in bars, I read before bed. I fall asleep reading every night and wake up covered in words and pictures of celebrities like I'm made of paper-mache. When I meet other readers, we immediately launch into a furious, Amazon-like flurry of recommendations and comparisons. Some people think it's pretentious to call yourself a reader, but it's hard for an activity to be pretentious when hobos can do it just as well.

I wish I could read my blanket.

On the rare occasions that the mother would take me out to dinner in one of my hometown's many variations on the "Affable Blue Collar Local Deep Fries Things and Can Install Your Snow Tires, Too" eating establishments, it was an unspoken rule that we both would bring books, so that we might order, then immediately commence our respective reading, lest there be any actual exchange of emotion or conversation. Given that my parents and I have spent at least 80% of our time together reading in silence, I'm amazed at the number of horrifying discussions we've managed to cram into the remaining 20% (7%-Revelations of life truths at a premature age, 3%- Passing along of false information, 2%- Graphic discussions of family health issues, 3%- Ordering at drivethrough windows, 5%-Ongoing lifelong dialogue about why The Naked Gun is/is not funny), and grateful to the majesty of reading for sparing me what I can only assume would have been an additional 3-4 years of my parents repeatedly demanding I mow the lawn for lack of anything else to say. When your child's favorite thing to do is read, there's not a lot of threats you can use against them to force them to do your bidding; grounding/revoking TV and friend privileges just provides more reading time, and society had fortunately started to frown upon beatings by the late 80s. In retrospect, I didn't take advantage of this nearly as much as I should have.

Seemed as though a picture of a book should appear somewhere.

Recently, I've taken to listening to audiobooks during my lengthy walks. My family are all huge book-on-tape fans; at Thanksgiving you can seek refuge from the barrage of questions regarding the state of your uterus in what you believed to be an empty room, then shit yourself when you find 2-3 people sitting in the dark staring off into space like zombies, headphones in ears. Every single car trip I took with my parents between the ages of 4-17 was accompanied not by public radio shows or family singalongs, but books-on-tape, cruelly interspersed with my father's only other album, Neil Diamond's Greatest Hits, giving me the coveted teenage skills of knowing all the words to both"Solitary Man" and the first chapter of Tom Clancy's "Patriot Games". I'm digging my latest download from, but it's very easy to get lost in the story as you walk along, and when I suddenly start grinning at a particularly delightful turn-of-phrase, I imagine it's unnerving to others walking in the opposite direction. I used to work out to comedy albums, and there is no stranger look one can receive than when he/she suddenly bursts out laughing on the elliptical because an unseen George Carlin has said "fuck" creatively.

Now I read that critics are denouncing the Book-It program, the grade school reward system wherein if you read five books a month, you get a free Personal Pan pizza from Pizza Hut. I took part in this program back when a Personal Pan really was a meal, and not a palm-sized apertif meant to keep your mouth busy chewing on something while you wait for them to squeeze your gordita into existence at the attached Taco Bell Express (perhaps that's just me), and never has a Pavlovian loop been more solidly formed. If I read a book, I got pizza. Now people claim that the program promotes the consumption of junk food, and that some children read easier books to get points, and are more motivated by the prize than the reading itself, to which I say "No shit."

Ironically, a sentence fragment.

Free pizza was (and is) the most motivating factor in a redblooded human's life. Never mind the fact that all of my food was free back then, thanks to the love of my parents/federal law, and that pizza was probably the only food I ever ate with the main ingredient not ending in "xenyol-9". If I read a book, I got pizza. Sure, it's a little sad that at the age of seven, I had yet to fully appreciate the beauty of the written word and the insitution of literature as reward in itself, but out of all of the things you could have gotten me to do for free pizza- treason or renouncement of God among them- reading seems pretty harmless. I had classmates that to this day would not have ever read five books in their life had there not been pepperoni at the end of the reading rainbow. We were in the second grade, and at that age, kids do shit for the payoff. It's not dirty, it's a lifetime theme--I don't sit at a desk all day, pretending to work out of a deep-rooted devotion to mankind, and though I don't remember why I agreed to toilet training, I can pretty much guarantee it wasn't out of an adherence to societal norms--and there's no reason to pretend otherwise.

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At April 04, 2007 1:34 PM, Blogger ctina said...

as a proud "book it" grad, I can say it fully prepared me for life. not only did it teach me the power of the free meal (ie in fundraisers, weddings, and parties in brooklyn) but it taught me how to "work it" -- that is, work the system & get the most from The Man.

Come to think of it, i still read really short children's books so the Man will buy me dinner (now they're vendor dinners). but instead of the pitcher of pepsi, i head for the open bar.

At April 04, 2007 2:59 PM, Anonymous Cassie said...

I think that I'm very much like you. Kids will ALWAYS do the easiest thing possible to get the free thing, be it a pizza or any other option. Yet, I always read the hard ones, regardless. The free pizza at the end was just an added bonus. And, I still read SO much it's crazy. I read a statistic a few months back that something like 60% of adults don't read a single book after graduating. I don't know if that number is correct or not, but I wouldn't be surprised. Sad, yes. Surprised, no.

At April 04, 2007 6:06 PM, Blogger MonkeyPants said...

When my family finally made the mandatory trip to "vacation" at Disney World (Dad had a conference.. everything was paid for), every one of us stood in the lines for the rides with our noses jammed in books. I was reading "Lestat" at the time, which left me with a very weird recollection of that trip. I don't think we saw any other readers while we were there.

At April 04, 2007 6:23 PM, Blogger Mistress Squidia said...

My original mom used to insist on sit-down dinners, of which I remember absolutely nothing. My back-up spare auxilary mom brought in as a pitch hitter by my dad when I was eight loved to read at the table. I remember us all sitting around reading and munching and never speaking to each other for years, which was a good thing if you ask me. In my high school years, this woman taught me to read and eat melted butter mixed with brown sugar, which led to feelings of hunger when looking at a book, 100-plus extra poundage, and borderline diabetes. Way to go. But I'm still a reader.

If anyone wants a total escapism recommendation, the Discworld series by the totally British Terry Pratchett is amazing. I want to live on the Discworld, and for part of 2005 I sort of did. Go escapism. Reading "Lestat" in line at Disney World does take the cake though. You win, Monkeypants.

At April 04, 2007 6:58 PM, Blogger M said...

I participate in the local "Power Lunch" program where I tutor kids at the local grade school in reading during my lunch hour. Basically, it's a program to get kids interested in reading. If the thought of winning a pizza makes a child open a book and actually read it, I'm all for it. Everyone can be a reader, the trick is finding the right book (or blog!)

At April 05, 2007 1:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Ohio, we didn't get personal pan pizzas as a Book It reward. Our entire class got a PIZZA PARTY - even better because a)Pizza at school is just plain better and b) We could rub it in the face of the other 2 classrooms, stuck marching in line to the cafeteria to eat out of their brown bags. Book It was AWESOME.

At April 05, 2007 1:44 PM, Blogger M. Butler said...

I think Pizza Hut should offer Papa Johns Pizzas as a prize for reading 5 books. That way, PH gets the credit and PJs gets the flack. And PJs pizza is better anyway.

At April 06, 2007 12:53 AM, Anonymous e said...

oh, book it! how exciting and simple life was then, i was definitely one of those kids who would read a hard book anyway, just to impress the teacher.

I read, "To Kill a Mocking Bird," in the 4th grade because my teacher mention Boo Radley during recess one day. Took me years to figure out Scout was really a girl.

At April 07, 2007 11:15 AM, Anonymous Asian Eric. said...

I used to read magazine articles for Book-It, and no one at my upstate NY school cared. One Sports Illustrated was like 4 Pizzas alone. My parents signed off on everything, they could give an S.

At April 08, 2007 5:21 PM, Blogger Rat said...

When I was a kid, my parents would always bring books or papers to grade when we went on vacation, and they were always reading books or magazines at home. God forbid anyone in my family speak to each other for any length of time, yeah? And yes, books were sometimes brought to dinner out. Oh, the memories. But if nothing else, I grew up with a fantastic love of reading - I haven't stopped since I learned how. ;) And for me as a kid, the harder the book, the more I enjoyed reading it, or so it seemed.

I can't understand folks who don't enjoy reading... but there sure are a lot of them. They're missing out.

At April 09, 2007 5:27 PM, Anonymous Jersey Jess said...

I read so much and so faithfully (addictedly?) as a child that I ended up being just one step above "totally freakin' blind as a bat" (until the miracle of Lasik). It was due to all those nights when I would "sneak" reading in the dark, with a flashlight, after hours. Oh, those were the days of innocence...before I started sneaking boys home after hours to make out with and heavy pet, with my parents in the bedroom next door.

But I digress...I also adored the Book-It program and in my class, I got a little star sticker for every book read. I remember how my stars would escape into the next line every month (read: DORK) and bump out the illiterate schmuck who came after me in the alphabet. Sucker.

PS: Pizza Hut over Papa John's any day. There's nothing better than that greasy black deep-dish iron pan.

At April 10, 2007 12:51 PM, Blogger Wombat said...

I swear parents only plant lawn so the mowing thereof can be used as an ongoing threat to their children.

It's a really roundabout way to instil civic/domestic virtue.

At April 12, 2007 3:28 PM, Blogger craig said...

I don't think we had "Book it" when I was in school, but we did have RIF ("Reading Is Fundamental") which, if I remember correctly, also had a free book incentive. But no pizza.

At April 14, 2007 6:10 PM, Blogger Kyla said...

I think Book It is responsible for most of the literacy you find in our generation. Thank God for Pizza Hut and their willingness to donate personal pan pizzas to so many book-reading children.

The public library in the town that I grew up in also had a summer reading program. I don't remember exactly what the prizes were, but I remember getting a whole package of coupons at the end of the summer when I came back, completed book list in hand. Incentives are the shit!


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