Sunday, November 11, 2012

Chain Reader

Those of you with me since the beginning of Books For Breakfast may remember Chain Reader, a post on how I've become a person who habitually reads multiple books at once, and how I've benefited from my new habit. My former self gobbled books whole, moving on to the next before I'd digested the meal. Now I read slowly. On purpose. Pausing to ponder. Stopping to think.

How wonderful to marvel at a clever turn of phrase, such as this one, from Middlemarch by George Elliot:
Celia's face had the shadow of a pouting expression in it, the full presence of the pout being kept back by an habitual awe of Dorothea and principle: two associated facts which might show a mysterious electricity if you touched them incautiously.
Or this, from Tozer's Pursuit of God, a book that I've been reading for three months without getting past the third chapter. Not because of disinterest. But because it takes that long for the words to deeply penetrate. And affect change.

With the veil removed by the rending of Jesus' flesh, with nothing on God's side to prevent us from entering (the Holy of Holies), why do we tarry without? . . . What but the presence of a veil in our hearts? a veil not taken away as the first veil was, but which remains there still shutting out the light and hiding the face of God from us. It is the veil of our fleshly fallen nature living on, unjudged within us, uncrucified and unrepudiated. It is the close-woven veil of the self-life which we have never truly acknowledged, of which we have been secretly ashamed, and which for these reasons we have never brought to the judgment of the cross . . . So I am bold to name the threads out of which this inner veil is woven. It is woven of the fine threads of the self-life, the hyphenated sins of the human spirit. They are not something we do, they are something we are, and therein lies both their subtlety and their power. . . self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love and a host of others like them.

. . . that veil is made of living spiritual tissue; it is composed of the sentient, quivering stuff of which our whole beings consist, and to touch it is to touch us where we feel pain. To tear it away is to injure us, to hurt us and make us bleed. To say otherwise is to make the cross no cross and death no death at all. It is never fun to die. To rip through the dear and tender stuff of which life is made can never be anything but deeply painful. Yet that is what the cross did to Jesus and it is what the cross would do to every man to set him free.
Words such as these beg attention. Contemplation. How much do we miss when we speed through? Consume but not absorb?

I've been reading in this manner for about a year now. And about six months ago, I began to think, why not open up such experiences to Pippi? Up until then, we would read one chapter length book at a time. Some to which she was receptive - such as Betsy-Tacy - some not so much. Lots of wiggling and hand stands going on.

But when I began to pace our readings, I noticed a change.

But before the change, I'll first explain our schedule.

We typically read about ten books at a time. One chapter a day in most cases. Sometimes she begs, and I relent, and we will read two or three chapters in a sitting. But I try to hold her to just one. Nothing like an unquenched thirst to bring her back to the cup.

So here's our reading schedule. I read aloud from two long books a day, one in the morning while she works on handwriting, and one at night before bed. Rest assured, though, we read plenty of picture books throughout the day.

Sunday - Because we have church, this day is an exception. We don't do lessons on Sunday morning, so we have only one read aloud, Leading Little Ones to God by Marian M. Schoolland.

Monday morning, I read from The Japanese Twins, part of a series written in the early twentieth century by Lucy Fitch Perkins. With detailed descriptions of food, dress, customs, and the land paired with challenging vocabulary and syntax, packed into a story about five year old twins, I can not imagine a better way to introduce children to other countries. And for our night reading, we have been reading from The Adventures of Grandfather Frog by Thornton Burgess. Our adventure with Grandfather Frog came to an end last night, with a new adventure with Jeremy Muskrat waiting in the wings.

Tuesday morning, I have begun reading from Stories of American Life and Adventure by Edward Eggleston, a challenging primer in American history. Evenings, we read from TWIG by Elizabeth Orton Jones.

Wednesday morning, we work on memory work for the scripture memorization program at our church. Evenings, we read from the Beatrix Potter stories. These, she is also beginning to read to herself.

Thursday morning, I read from her choice of books, usually Pippi Longstocking. Evenings I read a chapter from Winnie the Pooh. This is a favorite. Pippi and Tommy also listen to the audio recording of the Pooh books at night while they wait for sleep.

Friday morning, I read a chapter from Among the Night People, part of a natural science series written by Clara Dillingham Pierson. Evenings, I read aloud from the Rageddy Andy stories.

Saturday morning, I read from Stories from Grandma's Attic by Arleta Richardson. Evenings, I read from Elmer and the Dragon.

Now for the change.

At the beginning of our chain reading expirement, Pippi seemed a bit puzzled. Monday night, I read from one book. Tuesday night, another. And so on. At first, she was less than enthusiastic. But after a month's worth of reading, she'd memorized the schedule and began to eagerly look forward to each installment. Now that we are coming to the end of many of our books - after six months of living with the characters, drawing them, acting out chapters - Pippi acts as if she is bidding farewell to beloved friends. Pippi was moved to tears when I closed the book for the last time on Grandfather Frog.

And the manner in which I read the books has changed too. I have learned to stop keeping one eye on the page number. I've learned to stop looking at the shelves of books, wondering when we can get to the next one, and the next one, and the next one . . . Learned to stop thinking of chapter books as notches in my belt. Because I know we will be spending a loooooong time with Pooh, Elmer, Andy, and the Twins, I settle in. And take my time.

And because I'm in no rush, I patiently (that is a key word) reread difficult to understand passages at Pippi's request. And because we are taking this time, this slow, unhurried time, the subtlest nuances do not escape her comprehension. She notices more. Understands more.

And that folks, is what it's all about. Forget AR points. Forget number of pages read.

Throw away that belt with the notches.

It is meaningless.

What matters, what truly matters in this stuff of books, is a child's experience with the book.

Don't tell me how many pages you read. I want to know, did something nameless awaken within you?

Because if not, you've wasted your time.

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