The other evening when I was looking for something light-hearted to watch on television, I happened upon The Princess Bride. I hadn’t watched the movie in many years but this time around I saw the movie from a totally different perspective. In the opening scene a young boy (played by Fred Savage) is sick in bed when his grandfather (played by Peter Falk) comes to visit. But this isn’t just an ordinary visit. The grandfather came specifically to read a book to his grandson, a story his own father read to him when he was a boy. The story, of course, is The Princess Bride. The grandfather says, “In my day, a book was our television.”
That scene brought back memories of my childhood and how much I relished being read to. I would get completely lost in the story as I pictured every scene, every character, every interaction in my mind’s eye—it was truly magical and effortless. From my recollection, I can honestly say that it was as good as, if not better than, watching things on television. Indeed, the severity of my dyslexia was such that there were few effortless mental processes in my world, but listening to someone read was a time of pure joy when all struggle dropped away. I felt connected to, rather than different from, other people.
Most children love to listen to stories being read and they have an innate ability to visualize the story with ease. But as we grow older, a sad thing often happens. We gradually lose the wonderment, the pleasure and the ease of listening to a story and exercising our imagination. A dimming of the mind’s eye can occur.
It reminds me of the effortless and happy physical activity of childhood. Kids can spend all day running and jumping and playing and they love every minute of it. But as adults we at times have to force ourselves just to get a minimal amount of exercise each day.
How can you keep the wonderment of story time alive in your children? And what about any adults who feel they may have lost the wonderment of story time? Is it lost and gone forever? Can we rekindle a bright and curious mind’s eye once more?
The importance of reading to each other, even to another adult or to our adolescent children, was brought out in a recent discussion among friends. Most of the group had good memories of being read to as preschoolers, but interestingly, once we entered public school, it became far less common to have people read to us. It was as if only those who were too young to read for themselves got story time.
But as we shared memories, we recalled special high school or college teachers who read to us from Shakespeare, George Eliot, Tolstoy, Lewis Carroll, Jack London, or Willa Cather. Those memories were powerful, often intensely charged with emotion. We felt nurtured and special. We were able to connect with reading material that may have otherwise seemed daunting or outdated. It reinforced the community and kinship that all humans have shared down through the centuries as we find our places in the world and deal with our personal struggles.
What would happen if more families turned off the TV or the game console once in a while and read together? How about picking a classic title and making a project of it, reading for a few minutes each evening? Audiobooks are also a lovely indulgence, especially for those of us in urban areas with long commutes. A lengthy tome like The Count of Monte Cristo may seem overwhelming at 47 hours of listening time, but if you are in your car a couple of hours a day, the time passes quickly and your day has been enriched beyond measure.
Cultivating our curiosity, exercising our listening skills and engaging the parts of the brain that bring words to life are all part of sharpening the mind’s eye. When we exercise our minds through sharing great books with those we love, it builds lasting memories and close bonds.