Israel is in the midst of celebrating Hebrew Book Week. It’s our equivalent to America’s November Jewish Book Month, and for more than a decade the two thankfully share a common denominator in recognizing that Reluctant Readers also belong to “The People of the Book.”
I speak from experience as a former RR. It took me years to recover from a spontaneous utterance on the part of my warm, nurturing mother: How can a child of ours not like to read?! she declared when I was a bored nine-year-old stuck at home one Shabbat. I was devastated. The only offspring of a bookworm schoolteacher and an intellectual historian/educator, my heart sank to the tips of my toes, understanding that I had let them down. My reading was directed to the world of comic books. Stubbornly persistent, within a few years my mother transformed me into an avid reader, guiding me down a path of page-turning mysteries. But I had to wait for my own motherhood to fully comprehend my reading issue: Concentration span, commonly known today as ADD.
While my husband and I couldn’t keep up with the breathtaking reading pace of our younger son, our eldest was far from similarly inclined. He was a case of a high IQ with no reading difficulties, and a vocabulary that surpassed many bibliophiles thanks to an uncanny ear for language. But give him a book? Forget it! It was only when a savvy adult gifted him the Guinness Book of World Records and he couldn’t put it down, did the penny drop on my part. Short, interesting items kept his attention page after page. Recognizing his love for cars coupled with his mechanical capabilities, I began purchasing automotive magazines for him, all of which he received with the same Guinness enthusiasm.
In my eyes, he had now been initiated into the world of reading. It was only when a friend of mine questioned our younger son’s transition to the chunky video game booklets that came with PlayStation games did I start to ponder what should be considered reading. An English teacher by profession, my friend asked in a condescending tone: “what happened to him?”“Nothing,” I replied, “he’s reading.”
“That’s not reading,” she tut-tutted. I leafed through the pages, followed the thread, took in the vocabulary, and emphatically answered: “yes it is!”
Now I’m a grandmother, witnessing a third generation of reluctant (book) readers making quantum leaps in English vocabulary, this time thanks to games played on their phones. Honestly, their progress is staggering. Offer them a book to read and I’ll get an Israeli shoulder shrug that translates into not really. Even a book that I’ve written will be politely turned down by a “promise” to pick it up soon.
Yet, there is one genre that they will agree to read, and it connects to my escape into comic books. How I wish the comic book creators of yesteryear would have been wiser in the way they had marketed their goods – perhaps by calling them “graphic novellas”. It might have saved my mother fits of frustration, not to mention it being an honest way of recognizing that Reluctant Readers also belong to The People of the Book. Many evolve into avid readers. Some even become successful authors. I can attest to both. And let’s be honest. The majority of comic book superhero creators were members of the tribe. Doesn’t that say something?