I banned books yesterday. I’ve done it before, and I’d do it again. I wouldn’t say I’m proud, but I am hopeful.
Last night, we had a reading dinner. This is exactly as it sounds: a dinner where reading rather than conversation occurs. We don’t light the chalice but rather make room for books at the table. All breakfasts and lunches are reading meals, but dinner is generally not. Today, however, with each person eating a different leftover, all ready from the microwave at a different time, I threw in the towel and declared a reading dinner. My younger brought two volumes of Bone by Jeff Smith to the table, and I blew up. I’m not proud of my reaction, but for the past six months, all my younger’s leisure reading consists of the same nine books in this series. They are a fine graphic novel series,but six months of just those nine book? Really? Initially, I was glad he was reading independently, but at this point, I’m just irked.
His older brother (13 next week!) started his comic book binge when he was seven. Calvin and Hobbes was his gateway drug, followed by Garfield, Peanuts, Foxtrot, Dilbert, Baby Blues, The Far Side, and Zits. He bought books with his allowance, asked for them as gifts, borrowed them from the library, and sought them out at used book sales. His collection flows off his shelves, including a set of shelves in his closet that seems to suffer from recurrent book vomiting, if his floor is any indication. When he started reading Calvin and Hobbes, I delighted in the choice: imaginative dialogue with complex vocabulary. He missed much of the intended humor, but he found his own laughs, especially in Calvin’s facial expressions.
Fast forward six and a half years. Although his repertoire has grown, he’s read his collection dozens of times. Literally. If he were reading other new books of his choosing, I’d have no complaint. We’re all entitled to our preferred methods of relaxation, and reading comic books has been his for quite some time. Fine. But now he’s picking nothing else for leisure reading. Nothing. And I’d guess that trend (this time) has been for about six months. Since moderation doesn’t work for him (there’s no such thing as reading just one Foxtrot cartoon), a total ban has always worked best. In the past, we’ve taped an “X” over the shelves as a reminder, and, within days, he’s rediscovering the world of Other Books. He often seems relieved, in fact.
Since my separation two years ago, I’ve let the comic book reading go on unchecked, somewhat knowing he needed the comfort of the familiar and somewhat out of my apathy. I’d grumped occasionally, and at points he’d picked up other books, often ones he’d read often before. But at least they required more than a 10 second attention span (and that’s my biggest beef with constant comic book reading — they don’t required the reader to hold thoughts together, draw conclusions, or find threads). I assign him a moderate amount of reading for homeschooling, which he generally does willingly, if I choose carefully. It’s not that he’s read nothing but comic books for the past too many years, but they’re pushing out reading new material.
So today was the official start of “Put Away Those Comic Books You’ve Read 100 Times.” My older, having experienced comic book fasts in the past, took the news with little comment and no complaint. My younger shrieked initially but quickly cooled down. The change in reading material was immediate. My older declared The New York Times quite interesting (yeah, I’m delighted), and my younger settled into Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. No fuss from either child, and I’m delighted to see some new written material in their hands and stimulating their minds.
At some point, the comic books will come back out. I really don’t have anything against the medium, but, like potato chips, a few are tasty and fun but they make a poorly balanced diet when consumed with abandon and without balance. So we’re removing the chips and remembering the lovely tastes and textures of the other forms of the written word. And everyone seems content.