blythe Confession: We scheduled our family vacation around the release of Harry Potter. We were originally going to leave later and come back later, placing us in the wilds of Montana on July 15. “We can’t do that,” my husband said. “None of the theaters in Bozeman are going to be good enough. We’ll have to be back here.” So we were back in Denver in plenty of time for the midnight showing, sitting in reserved seats in our favorite theater, It was, after all, a special occasion. All of us are fans of the books and movies. All my children have read all the books. They are all – to one degree or another – readers.

I’m not entirely sure that this has anything to do with me, other than genetics and the huge towering stacks of books lying available all around my house (I’m sure there are people who have more books than we do, but I’ve never met them). When the kids were little (they’re 19, 17, 14, and 11 now) I used to read parenting magazines all the time. They were full of helpful tips about raising a reader, the most obvious being to read to them every night (we did). My favorite, though, was the suggestion that you, the parent, should try to model reading so that your kids would see that adults read for pleasure. The idea that this required effort was always hilarious to me (what I really needed to hear: “Lady, put Outlander down and feed your kids something besides pizza.”) Whether it’s because I read Angelina Ballerina, Brown Bear, Go Dog, Go!, and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble something like thirty billion times or not, all the kids read now.

My oldest and youngest read the most. Scarlett chews through books like a very hungry caterpillar, and reads way faster than I do. If you don’t trip over her clothes when you enter her room, you’ll trip over the books; they’re everywhere. Finn likes The Hardy Boys and various fantasy series that I can’t really bother to keep straight. Abigail prefers literature (she has a snobbish streak, but so did I at 17). Duncan just started the Game of Thrones series.

It may help that they have parents who buy them whatever book they want, take them to midnight showings and release parties, and let them stay up reading on school nights. But then I’m not convinced that’s what makes a reader either. I can’t imagine my parents taking me to a midnight anything. Most of my books came from the library until I started earning my own money and buying them myself. And I still manged to read like there was no tomorrow as soon as I was old enough to hold a book. Granted, I had plenty of children’s books, my parents read to me, and I saw my dad read every night (he was probably modeling this behavior on purpose, on advice from whatever parenting magazine they had in the seventies).

Assuming basic literacy and access to books (which certainly in some areas of the world is still a big assumption), I think you either are a reader or you’re not. A friend at work was admiring my nookcolor, and said she was thinking of asking her husband for one. She reported back that he said it would be like giving a gym membership to someone who never worked out. “I guess I don’t read much,” she said. “But I’d like to be known as a reader.”  I hope I didn’t sound too condescending when I said that readers need books almost like they need air. It isn’t something we try to do; it’s who we are.

What say you? Are readers born or made?

– Blythe Barnhill

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