Source: Sherman Publications

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A column by Susan Bromley

by Susan Bromley

March 21, 2012

Once upon a time...

a long, long time ago (OK, a few, two, weeks ago), in the kingdom of Allendale (Grand Valley State University), there was a princess named Katie who called her mother (the queen), who lived far, far away.

"Guess what, Mom?"

"What?"

"I read The Hunger Games today!"

My 19-year-old college sophomore had spent her entire day reading while "at work" in the philosophy department (it's a pretty cushy job, the princess answers phones and helps the occasional office visitor). She started and finished the 300+ page book that day.

I asked the required questions— "Did you get your work done?" (Yes) Did your reading interfere with studying?" (No tests this week)

With satisfactory answers, I couldn't stop smiling as it dawned on me I had accomplished one of my goals as a mother— I raised a child who loves reading.

As parents, we all have goals and dreams for our children. Some parents dream of their child being a professional athlete, or skilled musically, or academically gifted. I, like most parents, wished for my child to be healthy, to be happy, to be loved, to be successful, to be a good person.

I wanted her to find her own talents and follow her own dreams. I didn't dream that she would grow up to be a writer like me, or have strengths I do not possess like an aptitude for math. But there was one passion that I knew I would do all in my power to develop in her: I wanted my child to enjoy books.

I knew if I could get Katie to love reading, I would be giving her an immense gift, one that will serve her well all of her life. Books, after all, give us the power to transcend time and place. The moment you open a book, you can enter another world. You are invited to meet a host of characters with varying backgrounds, opinions, and ideas that you might never be exposed to otherwise. These characters might have powers or abilities we could only dream (or read) about.

Therein lies the power of the novel. Anything can happen, anything can be. You can travel back to any place in history, even to a time that predates the written word, or read along as extinct species are brought to the present day. Turn the pages and watch battles, real or imagined, unfold. Rocket forward into a future where the world as you've known it is altered beyond recognition, and view it from the safety of your chair, or sofa, or bed, or beach blanket.

There are worlds that never were and never will be to discover— with witches and yellow brick roads, Hobbits and elves, talking pigs and spiders, giants and beanstalks that stretch up to the clouds.

Maybe when you open the book, you are in a real place such as the Louvre Museum as a curator is murdered, left trying to sort out clues of an ancient mystery and asking yourself, "What if?" Because that is the glory of books, too— making us stop and think. Is there anything more fascinating or powerful than stretching our minds to encompass a new view or embrace new knowledge or possibilities, or, to enforce our own beliefs? Perhaps when you turn the pages, you follow a family as they struggle to survive the Great Depression and in their struggle you see your own values reflected— love for family, compassion for strangers, the will to persevere.

Books have a power over movies, too, because they require you to be fully engaged— you are actively reading and thinking, at your own pace. While doing so, you may laugh, you may cry. In the course of a few hours while involved in a story, you could experience love, loss, anger, fear, joy, gratitude, struggle, triumph and so much more.

While I'd had a growing sense of satisfaction over the years that reading was something Katie enjoyed, and certainly never dreaded, that phone call a few weeks ago filled me with overwhelming happiness. There was no denying the passion she felt over that book and the fulfillment she receives from reading. There is no denying the joy I have knowing that my daughter's love for reading will open doors for her throughout her life, and bring her knowledge, comfort, and happiness.

March is National Reading Month. What I wish for all of you is that you find a great book—at your library, the book store, on your shelves or online. Read to a child or grandchild, read to yourself. Get lost in a far away place or time. Celebrate a form of entertainment that is so diverse there is something for everyone, and so inexpensive (or free!), anyone can enjoy it for hours on end.

Go now. The world is waiting for you. Open a book, escape and expand your mind, and live happily ever after.

The end.