Attempting to Spark the Bookworm Gene

By Bill Levine | October 3rd, 2017

A book-loving father laments his sons' lack of enthusiasm for reading

Texting Millenial Harry Potter

This past Chanukah, I gave my 21-year-old son Matt a gift of a book. Compared to Matt’s other gifts, such as cool clothes and a Budweiser can candle, I feared that the book would be rated a distant third.

After all, Matt could only come up with one book on his “maybe read list,” which was Murder In Belmont, about a hometown crime. As his book-loving dad, I was disappointed by Matt’s response. I would have preferred: “Get me 12 William Faulkners and Bill O’Reilly’s latest Killing, Killing and Still Killing Rasputin. But Matt, and his older brother Craig, had read for pleasure about two books total after middle school.

My millennials did read for pleasure in their elementary schools days. Indeed, my family reading tradition reached its apex at about 11:30 p.m. in July of 2004 when my tween boys, my wife and myself were part of a several-blocks-long queue. Everyone was waiting in line to pick up a new Harry Potter book. It was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Alcatraz or something like that. We made it into Walden Books about 12:20 a.m. or so, and Craig and Matt were handed their books by wizard-costumed store clerks. We were a bibliophile family, at least on that night.

In my own childhood, I would have loved events like the Harry Potter hot-off-the-press soiree. But these book promotions never happened in my childhood. In fact, as a tween, I went into a bookstore with no mandate from publishing industry to buy a specific book. But my mom would give me time to browse Lauriat Books for reference books. In those days, I read because I was a curious introvert, and I needed to prep for my role as the class know-it-all. It all lead up to a shining moment in fifth grade circa 1962, when I correctly named all of the Kennedy cabinet members, gleaned from my 1961 Encyclopedia Britannica supplement.

As I went through attenuated adolescence in college, my pleasure reading broadened out to include everything except sci-fi and Jacqueline Susann. But my focus in pleasure reading was often the sexual and romantic plots within the book at hand, as I was a callow youth. As I have matured over the years, reading has continued to feed invaluable self-reflection and enjoyment. Some of my best reads in the past couple of decades have been family-oriented novels. I have dug into these volumes to see if indeed our family is just normally crazy or really crazy.

I would then have liked to say that my millennials have benefitted from reading as I have over my lifetime. It would have been an important tradition to pass down. At least, though, I tried to set an example of a committed pleasure reader. On our cruise ship vacations, they have watched me read on just about every deck on a ship, forgoing the more enticing opportunities like the belly flop competition and towel-folding clinics.

But pleasure reading for my millennials has mostly been done in by all the available leisure-time-absorbing digital delights like unlimited texting minutes and limited factual news.

They did, however, somehow pick up on my love of basketball. Their skillful dedication to the hoop followed in my own clumsy footsteps; it was my one alternative pastime as an adolescent. If my dad said “get your nose out of a book and go outside,” I would, if there was a basketball game in my neighborhood. I don’t really know how my kids caught the b-ball bug. It could be through osmosis … or maybe it was just through DNA that was dominant for basketball and recessive for quidditch.

True, my wife is 6 feet and my son’s heights are 6’5” (Craig) and 6’2” (Matt), but I swear I married for love, not basketball.

My last gasp, then, to entice these millennials to read is to utilize their love of basketball. I am going to lend them my two favorite basketball books, To the Hoop, by Ira Berkow, and My Losing Season, by Pat Conroy. These are great books because they are about persona odysseys as much as about trips up and down the court. It would be great if these books whet the boys’ reading appetites. Then maybe when I have narrowed my life down to reading and TV in my declining years, we will still have meaningful father-and-son activity, just like my father and me. Even when my dad was in his nineties he always was ready to lend me books that he had read. In return, I could always get him a gift of a book.

If this ploy does not work, I will settle for harping Matt to finish Murder in Belmont.

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