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Read On

03/30/2010 10:32AM ● Published by Wendy Sipple

I’m not sure if I misheard or misunderstood my son’s fifth grade teacher when he said “40 minutes.”

I asked him to clarify.

Did he mean 40 minutes per day or 40 minutes per week?

“Forty minutes per week” he said. “That’s the amount of time we can dedicate to reading. There’s just so much stuff to do. That’s all the time we have.”

I like my son’s teacher. He is nice and very dedicated. I so admire teachers in fact, that I married one. But Mr. Teacher, there’s something you need to know. More than anything, I hope my children become readers and lovers of books. If their education interferes with this, we will have ourselves a problem.

Some would say it is not even worth the necessary trouble. Anything important enough to know or see can be found on television or the Internet. So they say. Maybe I need to wake up and realize the magic of the gadgets my kids will learn to use will make the hushed turning of pages irrelevant and unnecessary.

Here are my concerns: If they don’t know how to read, they might not learn to see. If they don’t read, they might be lulled asleep. They could go through life and actually miss the show.

Books keep us awake. They can be like an ice pick, breaking up the frozen sea within us. Books can help little ones step through the looking glass. On the other side they might be confounded by a mystery or invited to join a quest or perhaps they will recover something lost long ago.

This latest parent-teacher conference reminds me of a scene in Revelation, one of Flannery O’Connor’s famous short stories.

“The doctor’s waiting room, which was very small, was almost full when the Turpins entered and Mrs.Turpin, who was very large, made it look even smaller by her presence.”

Mrs.Turpin is a smug racist. Her looks of disapproval and disgust settle on all but a few of the patients in waiting. She’s thankful to Jesus that she is not like everyone else.

“Thank you! Thank you! If it’s one thing I am...it’s grateful. When I think who all I could have been besides myself and what all I got, a little of everything, and a good disposition besides, I just feel like shouting, ‘Thank you, Jesus, for making everything the way it is!’ It could have been different!”

Mary Grace is seated across from Mrs. Turpin. She’s a student at Wellesley College and has had to restrain herself while listening to the self-righteous smack of the large Southern belle. Mary Grace is scowling into a thick blue book, Human Development. At one point, Mary Grace can’t take it any more. She grips the book with her white fingers. She aims. She throws.

“The book struck her directly over her left eye. It struck almost at the same instant that she realized the girl was about to hurl it. Before she could utter a sound, the raw face came crashing across the table toward her howling. The girl’s fingers sank like clamps into the soft flesh of her neck.”

This is vintage O’Connor. A waiting room filled with broken people, united in their misfortune, and before you know it, we witness old-fashioned name-calling and soft flesh-tearing mayhem.

“Her vision narrowed and she saw everything as if it were happening in a small room far away. Mrs.Turpin’s vision suddenly reversed itself and she saw everything large instead of small.”

Mrs.Turpin’s perspective changed. Books have a way of striking the target like that. Sometimes it takes getting split in the head by a good book to see things as they really are. At least for my kids, I’m pretty sure that’s what it will take. And it will take more than 40 minutes.

Tim Blackmon is the former lead pastor at River Rock Church in Folsom.


Ten Ways to Raise a Reader

  1. Restrict television watching drastically.

  2. Keep the computer under control and where it can be monitored. Don't allow too many hours on pointless computer games or in chat rooms.

  3. Have books and other good reading material within easy reach, an enticement to read.

  4. Let your children see you reading.

  5. Read books aloud together regardless of age.

  6. Talk about books together; play games together.

  7. Have well-lit rooms with comfortable chairs that invite reading.

  8. Balance activity schedules with reading time. Let your kids know the library is as important as the gymnasium.

  9. Encourage reading in bed with good light to do so.

  10. Visit the library often, and listen to books-on tape when traveling.

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