Books Are Life On Steroids!

The 2005 midnight launch of Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince at Mendham Books in Mendham, NJ.

The 2005 midnight launch of Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince at Mendham Books in Mendham, NJ.

There has been some back and forth in the news on whether parents should bribe their children to read. It’s really a no-brainer. The answer is Yes! While using bribes to control behavior such as, “You get a coke every time you eat your broccoli,” is a bad idea, bribing your kids to take a leap of faith into something you know they’ll love is a great idea! It’s like teaching them to ride a bike. As soon as you let go of the seat and they pedal a few times without falling, they’re hooked!

I’ve bribed my kids to do various and sundry things with spotty success. Bribing for good grades doesn’t usually work. My brother promised a new iPhone to both his son and his son’s teacher if his son got all A’s. Needless to say, neither of them got iPhones at the end of the year. I did bribe one of my kids to get a job and employment gave him rewards far beyond my inducements.

The bribe I’m most proud of was offering each of my children $10 to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. When each kid reached third grade, I taped the money to the fridge. I knew that if I could get them to read that first, fabulous book, they wouldn’t be able to stop themselves from reading the next six. Once a kid reads over 3,000 pages, you’re golden!

Reading is many things but most of all fun. Lisa Lucas, the new head of the National Book Foundation has a goal: help people to love reading! I hope she is successful! I believe that if you can match up a person with the right book, magazine or back of a cereal box, you can get them to love reading!

You can tell your kids that reading will help them get better ACT/SAT scores, it will improve their vocabulary, and make them smarter but most of them don’t care about that stuff. Instead why not tell them that reading books lets them escape to new worlds where they can laugh, cry, or get the bejeezus scared out of them? Better yet, why not sit down with a good book yourself and show them how much fun reading is?

One summer, my family spent some time with a friend’s daughter. While she was beautiful and accomplished in her profession, she seemed a bit clueless and boring and I commented on that to my daughter.

Mary Jo responded, “She doesn’t read. People who don’t read tend to be boring.”
Wow! I think I’ll have to take a poll of my boring friends to determine if this is true! So instead of telling your kids they need to read to build their vocabulary and get smart, tell them they might want to read to be interesting and funny but if you are compelled to use the smart card tell them if they read they’ll never have to study for spelling tests. It’s true.

I have been pondering why I love to read more than any other entertainment. I’ll even forgo socializing if a novel is really good. I deduced that books were like screenplays and my brain was a movie theater. I figured this was why I am rarely compelled to see a movie after reading a book.I thought I had proven my theory when I saw Harry Potter and The Life of Pi because the movies were just as I had imagined them. I’ve tried to further prove my theory by trying to be aware of the “movie” aspect of my reading but found that there is no silver screen in my head. So I was back to square one trying to figure out what is happening in my brain that makes reading so pleasurable.

The answer came during a lovely mother-daughter gathering. One young lady mentioned she was reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the eighth book in the series.
“How is it?” I asked?”
“I love it!” Elizabeth replied.
“Is it a normal Harry Potter novel? I thought it was a play.”
“No, it is only dialogue. It is written by JK Rowling and the playwrights.”
“What about the visuals?”
“There are no visual descriptions. I really think the dialogue was the best part of all the Harry Potter novels.”
“Hmmm…I always thought the visuals were important even though I don’t ever remember “seeing” the stuff happen in any book I’ve read. Why do people find reading so pleasurable?”
“Because it allows us to experience the gamut of life experiences at a faster clip than real life. It is very satisfying because your brain doesn’t make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and actually having the experience! It all occurs in the same part of the brain.”
“Wow! That’s why I can read for hours on end! It’s like I’m living it!”

Perhaps you don’t need to bribe your kids to read after all. Just tell them that reading books registers in their brains the same as playing a video game, watching a movie or going outside and living life. Once they start reading, you can be relieved that in addition to building their vocabularies and getting smarter, they will also learn some of life lessons without ever having to leave the comfort of home!