The lifetime experience of reading.

Posted: April 5, 2010 in Book Reviews

The Graveyard Book

by Neil Gaiman

Remember when you were around age 12 or 13, before life became  cluttered with boring adult things like paying bills, doing laundry, and making meals? Reading was so different then, a whole other experience.

At that age I could curl up with a book and be so into the story it would block out all the rest of the world. It was transporting. I literally did not hear what went on around me. Must have driven my family nuts, but it was worth every precious minute.

Once I had children everything changed. I still read, of course, but through conditioning one ear became permanently attuned to listen for a crying baby, or a disaster connected with said crying baby –  like falling and crashing noises,  never a positive thing.

It’s a habit I still can’t shake, though my “baby” is now 12. Crying noises have, with some exceptions, been replaced with a combination of video game sound effects, a blaring TV and a constant stream of consciousness rambling about school, video games and complaints a brother or sister is LOOKING AT ME MAKE HIM/HER STOP!!!

No matter how gripping a plot, completely falling into a story has become a rarity. A true loss. A big part of what made reading such an obsession all my life was taken away; I could no longer completely lose the world in a book, falling down the rabbit hole with Alice, desperate to know what would happen next.

But… Over the weekend I had a breathtaking experience, a short but intense period in which the whole world – outside of a book – completely disappeared. I was reading Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, a novel meant for children aged 9 – 12, but never mind that. It was so magically wonderful I felt the same absorption I had as a child. I carried it with me everywhere, even walking around the house. Family members would talk to me, but had to repeat themselves two or three times before I finished a paragraph and could look up, impatience written all over my face.

I took it with me in the car (I wasn’t driving, in case you’re worried…), on the way to my in-laws’ for Easter. And I finished on the trip there, feeling bereft once I’d turned that last page, devastated to have left the world of Nobody (“Bod”) Owens and the spirits in the cemetery, his constant companions since he was a toddler.

Immediately, I turned around and told my sons (my daughter, at 16, doesn’t enjoy fantasy), “YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK!,” with enough volume and conviction they looked up from their gaming systems, surprised  to learn the book that had so absorbed me was aimed at their age group, that this was what had made mom bump into doors reading and walking simultaneously.

I wanted them to experience the same feeling, to know what the unbreakable spell of reading an exceptionally gripping book felt like. My feelings of irritation with the internet and gaming age came to a head, realizing the activity of reading – so important to me at their age – wasn’t anywhere near as vital to them as it had always been to me.

They’d been involved in books before (the Tunnels series, and before that the Calvin and Hobbes collections of cartoons), but connecting them with riveting books became more and more difficult the older they got. Gone were the days we’d come to the library every couple weeks, walking out the door with armloads of books they’d pore over for hours. Now it’s all gaming all the time, no matter how I try to push reading. It just can’t compete with crashing cars, visual stimulation happening in front of them rather than in their own imagination.

But with Neil Gaiman, maybe they’ll turn a corner. I’ll require they read the first chapter or two, crossing my fingers it captures them the way it did me. And from there? Gaiman’s written so much more, so many graphic novels that seem a good transition from loud visual stimulation to using more imagination.

Being a librarian, it makes me feel a failure I can’t convince my children reading is transporting. Not with all the competition out there. And they’ve just never been as drawn to it was I was, growing up in a bustling suburb at a time when the digital age has completely changed life as we knew it. I was raised in a rural community, a tiny, quiet town that bored me to tears. Without books I’d have been lost. But I had a library card, and spent every dime of my allowance on books.

I wonder, would my priorities have differed had I grown up in this century as opposed to my own? I’d like to think not, but I can’t say for sure.

One thing I do know, though it’s hard getting through to kids it’s also crucial to at least try to raise them as readers. Even if they only read on electronic devices, I don’t care. Reading is reading. And I want them to experience every bit of it while they can, before their own lives shift to adulthood and all the responsibilities that come with it.  Maybe the key is to read books aimed at them, finding those that rivet me. Maybe there is still hope they’ll put down the games and pick up books. At least I can’t say I didn’t try.

Reading level: Ages 9-12

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher:HarperCollins; Later Printing edition (September 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060530928
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