First, What Are You Reading? Volume 28

Here are the questions I ask and answer on the first of each month.  The questions, as always, are:

first, what are you reading?
what do you like best about it?
what do you like least?
what’s next on your list to read?

As always, I hope you’ll consider your current reads on your blog and/or sharing here in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter.  Happy reading!

First, what are you reading?

Thornton Wilder:  A Life by Penelope Niven, a brand-new biography of the playwright and author.  Niven had unprecedented access to Wilder family letters and papers in writing the book.

I’m slowly making my way through reading aloud  The Lord of the Rings trilogy, with the younger kids.  We are almost finished with The Fellowship of the Ring.

What do you like best about it?

I picked up Thornton Wilder at the new book shelf of the library after a book I’m highlighting as a good kids book features his play Our Town.  Our Town was a favorite of and oft-quoted by my late father.  He was fond of saying with a wry smile to one of us daughters at various times, “You’re pretty enough for all ordinary purposes.”  This was emphatically not a put-down, as it’s a famous line from the play.  My dad also loved The Bridge at San Luis Rey, probably Wilder’s most famous novel, as do I.

I very much enjoyed reading how Wilder’s family spent part of his childhood in China, as well as the time he spent at boarding school in China away from his family. (He was required to write long letters to his family every Sunday, which gives me ideas).  There must be something about spending part of one’s childhood in a foreign country that makes for great writers.  I can think off the top of my head of Rumer Godden and Jean Fritz, and I’m sure there are many others.

What do you like least about it?

I’m sure I won’t finish Thornton Wilder–I’m about halfway through– but what I have read has been great.

I both love and don’t love reading The Fellowship of the Ring aloud.  Reading aloud is the best and most connected way to share a book in a family, but it is hard work.

I have so far resisted getting an audiobook version so we could all listen together, or let my nine-year-old read it to himself.  He has mentioned reading it to himself a few times, and he certainly could.  But there truly is nothing to having a book read aloud, and by reading it aloud myself I am learning much more from Tolkein’s excellent writing, as well as highlighting quotes.

The reason I resist having us just read the books individually is that we are all really fast readers.

Case in point:  this week, when my nine-year-old was looking for a good book, I gave him my childhood copy of The 21 Balloons by William Pene Dubois, a Newberry winner from the mid-20th century.  He had not read it before, and when he looked a little dubious, I challenged him to give it 30 minutes and if he didn’t like it, he  could put it aside.

Forty-five minutes later, I called the kids for lunch.  He came walking in reading it (breaking our family rule, “no reading & walking” as I tell kids on the walk home from the library, trying to train them for not texting & driving).  He was already nearly halfway through the book.  Total time for him to finish the book?  Less than two hours.

I know this is technically a “good problem to have” but I find it super annoying, in a sort of funny way, and I told him so.  I already have enough trouble keeping older kids in books that are well-written and good!    More importantly, I have been concerned in the past that kids are not comprehending anything they read, getting through books so quickly, but I have found that comprehension is not a problem.  For instance, I asked him to tell me about The 21 Balloons, and he talked intelligently about the book for five minutes until I had to answer the phone.

Even though he was able to relate the plot and interesting vignettes from the book, I still feel we all miss out by reading too quickly.  Sometimes I try to slow myself down by taking notes of a book.  Reading aloud, especially with a classic like The Lord of the Rings, is completely worthwhile.

What’s next on your list?

Finishing The Lord of the Rings.

So many review books have come in lately I feel a bit overwhelmed, so I’m sure I will be taking some time in the next month to organize what I’ve got and try to map out the next few months.

What are you reading this month?