Reading Returns, a Family Story

For those of us who love books, it’s hard to imagine what we would do without them. It can be difficult to understand why others seem so resistant to their pleasures.

I grew up in a large family of seven. My father instilled the library habit in me early and many of my fondest memories of him involve our monthly trips to the tiny branch library where he would select his Erle Stanley Gardners, his Zane Greys, and his nonfiction adventure stories while I devoured books of all kinds as fast as I could.

My oldest sister Janice was also a reader. She picked up Dad’s taste for fat James Michener historicals, but also had a good selection of literary fiction on hand. My brother John is also a reader, who at times has favored thrillers, has dabbled in science fiction, but most often these days has a book about current events.

Somehow, the reading bug never bit my mother or other four sisters as strongly. Mom had her religious books and Laurie, my nearest sister had short flings with Victoria Holt, but family obligations and craft projects always seemed to fill their time first. When a pulmonary embolism took Dad and breast cancer claimed my sister Janice too young, reading in the family seemed to be dwindling. Among my many nieces and nephews, the habit seemed even more scarce. All the gloomy reports about the death of reading seemed to be sadly demonstrated by my own family.

Don’t underestimate the lure of the book. Reading is making a comeback in my family.

I wish I could take credit. I’ve talked about books with my family over the years, sent a few largely random choices out as gifts, and always spoken highly of my love for library work. But I live on the other side of the country from my Utah home, and my promotion of reading has been far too half-hearted to revive them as readers on its own.

On a recent trip home, I was pleased to hear about new favorites from many of my sisters. Lynette has become a voracious reader of authors like Maeve Binchy, Rosamunde Pilcher, and a slew of suspense and thriller writers. She visits our hometown library a couple of times a month. Shauna and Pat told me about newly discovered favorites like Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle or Jennifer Chiaverini’s Elm Creek Quilter series. Laurie had her nose stuck in Beverly Lewis’s latest Amish romance. Shauna even spoke highly of her first foray into my beloved fantasy genre, a successful encounter with The Goose Girl and The Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale. Mom has gotten into the act too: as she turns 80, she seems to be reading more fiction than ever before.

Now my sisters are beginning to pass books around, and curiosity is driving the new family habit to ever higher levels.  The younger generation is noticing: slowly, my nieces and nephews are beginning to pick up more books. I nearly swooned when two of my sisters talked about how they would like to find book groups to join.

I honestly can’t explain why reading has revived in my family. I never thought it would happen, but it has taught me on a very personal level that people can find a love for books at any point in life. 

For those of you in book groups, keep promoting what you are doing. Talk about good books with your friends, even if they don’t read. Invite them to attend a meeting and see what it is like. Children aren’t the only ones who are more likely to read if they are surrounded by a culture of reading. It may take years, but you never know when someone you care about will come around to the joys and comforts of reading.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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