As a kid, I was what you might call a bookworm.
I have distinct memories of walking through the grocery store parking lot, my head parallel to the pavement as my mom’s hand directed my shoulder out of harm's way so that I could continue reading. This happened on-the-regular. Another common sight in my house: our chocolate labrador, Fudge, acting as my pillow as I devoured a comic book (usually Calvin and Hobbes). I recall repeatedly trying to read on road trips, accepting the cost of growing carsick and grumpy in order to find out what happened next in Holes or Ella Enchanted or The Giver.
I can’t be alone here. I know I wasn’t the only one who stayed up all night reading the last Harry Potter after standing in line for hours at the midnight release. I know, because even in Anacortes, those lines were ridiculous.
Tell me if you relate to what Meg Ryan says in You've Got Mail:
"When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does."
- Kathleen Kelly, "You've Got Mail"
Every time I’ve heard this, I’ve nodded in agreement (and I’ve heard it more than just a few times). But recently, as I’ve been flipping through sweet, simple books with Ella and looking forward to longer stories like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Wind in the Willows, the subject of reading as a kid versus reading as an adult has been on my mind.
Here’s my conclusion: Reading during childhood is special, because kids tend to have this magical superpower of being able to completely lose themselves in a story. I remember being swept away in books, immersed in a character’s thoughts, caught up to the point of dancing around my living room in gleeful anticipation of the climactic chapter of a good book. It wasn’t quite escapism; it was the joyful, uninhibited exploration of another world via the imagination of a master storyteller.
Don’t get me wrong: There is certainly a place for reading like an adult. I can fully appreciate and enjoy a thoughtful, analytical approach to literature. But I also believe there is real power in fiction—to carry truth, to give you new "eyes to see," to feed your soul— and sometimes, because we are busy, responsible, and often cynical adults (I’m looking at you, Seattleites), these things are lost on us. I’d like to suggest that, in general, kids are capable of receiving what fiction has to offer without as many barriers.
Is it possible to read a story like a kid again? I’d like to think so. Here are few ways to reframe your perspective the next time you start a work of fiction:
1. Sit down, settle in, and expect a good story.
When we were kids, we hadn’t learned the skill of critical thinking yet, right? So, rather than hovering above the text, we sat right down into it. We read without “furrowing our brows," approaching a story not with pessimism, but expecting something good. And when you aren’t questioning the believability of the magic within a plot line, or scoffing at a character’s love despite an obvious red flag, it’s easier to keep turning the pages and find out if just maybe the author has something masterful up her sleeve. Give that hardworking, published author the benefit of the doubt!
2. Practice being irresponsible (for a minute).
Show me a kid in the middle of a good book, and I will show you a kid who’ll likely give up food and sleep to read the next chapter. Children do not carry such notions of “obligation” and “consequences” in an adult way. I cannot remember ever asking myself, as a 9-year-old: “If I stay up late tonight to read and forfeit an hour of sleep, will I be able to function well at school tomorrow?” Come on, grown ups! Let yourself get carried away. Just once, read the next chapter, stay up late, and pay for it in the morning!
3. Put down your phone and make time to read.
“Now, hold on,” you might be thinking, “Kids don’t need to make time to read; they have all the free time in the world!” I disagree. Kids are busy bees! A kid who curls up with a book has chosen NOT to: watch TV, build a fort, do his homework, ride his bike, or stomp around the house pretending to be a fire-breathing dragon. Likewise, adults who don’t read are choosing to do something else. And while I realize there are a select few who literally have NO TIME TO READ EVER, I’m willing to bet that YOU do, if you would stop and think about it. Case in point: You are currently reading this blog (thank you).
There you have it, my dear readers. As the evenings get darker and the weather gloomier, I encourage you to take the opportunity to turn off Netflix, cozy up with a good book, and read like a kid again.
Part of successfully “getting into a book” is choosing a good one. If you haven’t read fiction in a while, you might not know where to start. Here are a few suggestions for you:
Ask your co-worker, best friend, or blind date: what works of fiction did you enjoy as a kid or young adult? (Nick and I have loved reading books from each other's childhoods; we've found it to be a unique way of sharing those parts of our lives from before we met).
Go to the library and talk to the librarian. Tell them you are re-entering the world of stories and are desperate for some guidance. These people live (and get paid) for stuff like that!
If you’ve never read Harry Potter, do yourself a favor and READ IT ALREADY. Trust me, if you missed the craze as a kid or weren't allowed to read it, it's not too late to enjoy it. Start with the first book, and do me a favor: don't give up unless you’ve made it at least halfway through the second.
Here's a book I will recommend to everybody and anybody: The Glass Castle. Not children’s literature or young adult fiction, but a page-turning memoir. (Ok, this isn't exactly fiction, but it is a well-crafted story, so it counts.) Oh, and please don’t ruin it for yourself by watching the movie first!
I want to know what books YOU loved as a kid. Or, what stories have you read as an adult that you’d recommend to everyone and anyone? Tell us in the comments below!