It’s really quite a strange thing.
My older son (who, by the way, would be cranky if he knew I was blogging about him, so please keep this under your hats) has always insisted that he’s not a reader.
“Mom, I don’t like to read” is a recurring refrain around here. We’ve all been hearing some variation of this phrase from the time he learned to read.
But if there’s one thing everyone in this household agrees about, it’s that he does like to read.
I’ll be upfront about this. My mission in life is to get him to one day say, “Okay, okay! I do like to read! Are you happy now?” (or some variation thereof). I call it my “Mom, I don’t like to read” quest.
The Nonfiction Segment – Accomplished
Every Christmas, he tells me at least 9.5 times, “Don’t buy me any books for Christmas this year, okay, Mom?”
Fortunately, I am as practiced at the nuances of selective hearing as my teenagers are.
So, every Christmas, there are always a few books under the tree for him. And every Christmas, you’re guaranteed to find him curled into a corner of the room, a pile of his “big” presents still unwrapped in front of him, and everyone else calling out, “Come on! We’re waiting. Put that book down and unwrap another present!” (because we are semi-organized about unwrapping our presents and like to do it together, in a sort of synchronized manner, thereby eliminating the possibility of one person being done with the unwrapping while another one still has a mound of stuff to get through.)
Somewhere along the way, I also discovered that, 80% of the time, nonfiction reading material left in my son’s vicinity will get picked up by him and yes, read by him. (This is actually a vaguely scientific finding, based on a small experiment I did where I put out ten books or magazines in places around the house where he’s known to frequent, and received the satisfaction of seeing him pick up and read eight of them.)
We have subscriptions to the Smithsonian Magazine, Discovery, and National Geographic. Every month, these magazines get left in strategic places around the house, and every month, they get read. Not by me or my husband or my daughter or my younger son, by the way. You get the drift.
So, despite the fact that he hasn’t yet said to me, “Mom, I do like to read nonfiction”, I feel a sense of accomplishment when it comes to my son and nonfiction.
The Fiction Segment – My Ongoing Quest
But I’m not really satisfied with this. I enjoy nonfiction, but to me, there’s no thrill that matches the excitement of immersing myself in a work of fiction. Deep in my heart, I just know that my son likes fiction, too.
One day, back when he was about 12, he happened to pick up an old Piers Antony Xanth novel I had lying around. It was great timing – the pun-filled Xanth universe is perfect for young teenagers.
And then I had another stroke of good luck. My sister Dawn, who is a highly organized and very tidy individual (yes, we are related, despite what you might be thinking), happened to be cleaning out her bookshelves. I mentioned that her nephew seemed to be enjoying the Xanth novel and almost instantly, or so it seemed, she was on my doorstep with a box of her old Xanth novels.
We downplayed the whole thing – I’ve learned that downplaying the whole “this is a book you’ll really enjoy” angle is extremely important, by the way (in case you’re planning on embarking on a similar quest). We put the box of Xanth novels in my son’s room, mentioned what they contained once, and once only, and then left, quietly. (I think we might have tiptoed away.)
Within two weeks, he’d read all the novels in the box.
Score one for Mom!
I’ve since worked with this method to get him reading the Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout, too. And of course, he couldn’t resist the Harry Potter novels. He also discovered the alternate history novels of Harry Turtledove (the Worldwar and Colonization series). He enjoys these novels so much he’s reread them several times.
He still says, though, that he doesn’t like to read.
My Sookie Stackhouse Triumph
Recently, I scored a major victory in my “Mom, I don’t like to read” quest. I’d signed up for the Sookie Stackhouse challenge, and in anticipation of fulfilling the challenge requirements, I’d bought the boxed set of the first seven Sookie novels.
At the time, my son had just discovered the “True Blood” television series; I told him it was based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels, and waved the boxed set under his nose.
Sure enough, about two weeks later, he ambled into my office and nonchalantly asked where the Sookie books were.
Without hesitation, I gave him the entire set.
He took off with them, and read them all in a week. Yes, a week!
After he finished the first book, I asked him, “So, how do the books compare to the television series?”
He gave a shrug. “The television shows are better.”
When he’d finished the boxed set, I asked him again how the books compared to the television series.
“They’re different. But they’re both good.” Pause. “So, did you say there are some more books in the series? Are you planning to get them soon?”
“Admit it! You like to read, don’t you?”
“No, not really.”
“Do you want those last three books in the series or what?” (I am not adverse to certain levels of bribery, if you really want to know.)
“MOM! That’s not fair!”
A Mini Review(-in-progress): Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld
All of this is my long-winded lead-up to a mini review of Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld. A few days ago I was out shopping and saw the book on display; I’d been hearing about it at various other blogs, so, curious, I picked it up and took a look.
“It is the cusp of World War I, and all the European powers are arming up. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet,” I read from the jacket flap.
Oh my. An alternate history. Revolving around World War I. I don’t often buy newly released books in hard cover but I couldn’t resist this one.
I came home with it and gave it to my son. He glanced at it, then put it on his pillow and returned to his computer game.
“It’s an alternate history,” I piped up helpfully. “About World War I.”
He shrugged. Since I have quite a bit of experience with this kind of thing now, I left him to his game.
Late that evening, when I went to say good night to him, I found him sprawled on his bed, halfway through the book.
The next day, we had the following conversation:
Me: So, how’s Leviathan?
Him: It’s interesting.
Me: You put it down last night. Is it worth picking up to finish reading?
Him: Yeah. I’ve got homework tonight, though. But yeah. It’s pretty good.
(Here he launched into an explanation of the various Austro-Hungarian and German forces and their weapony, and the British Darwinists’ whale airship. Alternate histories really aren’t my thing, but I listened, rapt.)
Him: But it’s not really very practical, you know. I mean, really. A flying whale?
Me: You’re still going to finish reading it?
Him: Of course. It’s a good story.
So there you go. A mini review of Leviathan from someone who insists he doesn’t like to read.
By the way, if you want to help me out in my quest, I’d love to discover more alternate histories/science fiction novels that involve either of the two World Wars!
Update: Margot gave the most brilliant suggestion in her comment. She said, “He’s a reader; he just doesn’t want to have to fit your idea of a reader.” I never thought of it like this before, but I think now that’s it exactly! So … maybe my quest isn’t as ongoing as I’d thought; just maybe, it’s already accomplished …