At my old place I had floor to ceiling built-in bookshelves installed on either side of my fireplace. Those were filled as soon as the paint dried and I took to just stacking books up in my entry way, putting them on shelves in the family room, and having them cover the bedside table in my bedroom. They were everywhere.
There is an old Star Trek episode (original series) called The Trouble with Tribbles where a cute, fuzzy alien species takes over the Enterprise because they breed so quickly. Crew members opening any random compartment were met with a deluge of the adorable little creatures. That’s what happened to you in my house. You opened any cabinet or closet with the understanding you might get avalanched by hardbacks.
C will tell you that one of the main reasons she was interested in me is that she walked into my house and was impressed by the sheer number of books. Size apparently matters, at least as far as libraries are concerned.
I was partially deaf as a child. I had a speech impediment and not being able to understand people made learning to read difficult. When I entered 1st grade, I was put in what can only kindly be called the Paste Eaters reading group. We weren’t academic all stars. However, it was also about this time that my ears were fixed and I could finally hear correctly.. I very clearly remember the first reading book that the Paste Eaters were assigned. It was about the adventures of a purple monkey and his circus friends. Finally able to associate spoken words with written ones, I wanted to find everything I could about that goddamned monkey and the ringmaster who was constantly cockblocking his fun (metaphorically).
Pretty quickly I was moved out of the Paste Eaters group and into the Normal Kids reading circle. By Christmas I was moved up to work with the Advanced Kids. It rightly wasn’t called that, of course, because that would be a blow to the self-esteem of everyone else. However, whatever its name was, its significance wasn’t lost on anyone. We were the Jedi of first grade reading. The Paste Eaters looked at me as half-traitor/half ascendant being.
I didn’t care either way, because I had found my academic thing. Mrs. Kalmey, my first grade teacher, is an amazing educator and was very encouraging. Some days, when it was nice, she would take us outside and read The Hobbit to us. As the year went on we worked our way through the whole thing. Fuck the purple monkey. I wanted to read about this Bilbo guy. My mother couldn’t have been better, introducing me to libraries and taking me whenever I wanted. The summer after first grade she signed me up for the library’s summer reading program and I read 100 books. Not War and Peace, but Encyclopedia Brown, Toad and Frog and that sort of thing. For this, I received a record of the program’s mascot, a cartoon gorilla, singing a song about the joys of reading and being a primate. I can still hum the song.
T1 is a great reader. He took to it early and, now in 7th grade, has just started his first Stephen King book. He came to me and asked if he could read The Stand, King’s post-apocalyptic, 1100 page monster of a novel because someone in a different book he was reading had referenced it. I was very proud.
T2, not so much. He actually has speech difficulty too. When I met him, it was practically impossible to get him to pick up a book. I started reading Dr. Seuss to him, using funny voices for all of the characters. As I have previously said, T2 is very dramatic, so this appealed to him. It helps that my reading of Fox in Socks is epic and that Green Eggs and Ham is a thing you can actually cook and eat for breakfast. We eventually switched from me reading to him, to him reading to me. Progress was being made.
He didn’t read much over the summer and when he got back his skills had atrophied. Adding to this, we didn’t do a very good job about keeping on him about reading. T1 did it because he wanted to. T2 had to be encouraged and C and I weren’t as diligent during the first half of the year as we should have been. His reading was getting better because he has good teachers but his comprehension was suffering because we weren’t making him do it regularly and then quizzing him on it.
This came to a head a few weeks ago when I realized that, given the option of going to bed or reading for fifteen minutes, he was choosing to go to bed.
We started making him read aloud. We had to because when he was reading to himself he was actually just skimming. He would then claim he read a 45 page book in fifteen minutes and wouldn’t be able to tell you anything about it.
He was not a happy camper. Every time we would try and get him to sit down and read it was an ordeal. Part of it was that he gets a little self-conscious about his speech problems. A larger part of it was that he just didn’t want to do it and he is the most amazingly stubborn person I have ever met.
Drastic steps needed to be taken. I decided to resort to bribery.
T2 loves Pokemon. Pokemon is a Japanese card game where the players make up a deck of special cards and then play them against their opponent who has done the same thing. The cards all have pictures of monsters on them (the titular Pokemon) and each monster has its own set of number based attacks and defenses. You “capture” your card deck by going to the store and buying them. There is a long running cartoon designed to sell the cards and believe me when I tell you, there isn’t a single episode of the show that makes a lick of fucking sense. A pack of Pokemon cards at Target cost five dollars and contains five cards.
T2 has no idea how to actually play the game. Neither do any of his friends. They think they do, and in truth I don’t know how to play either, but I am certain that the way they play is in no way, shape or form in line with the actual rules of the game. They just like to collect and trade the cards. Which is fine.
T2 had one pack that he got for Christmas and a couple of cards that he had weaseled out of friends (kids are always giving T2 stuff). I figured I could bribe him with cards but I didn’t want to spend a fortune.
I realized that the game had been around for about a decade, maybe longer. In what I thought was a super clever move but which is something that is probably obvious to most people reading this, I went to EBAY to see how many I could pick up cheap. I found a guy who had thousands of the things and he was selling them in lots of 100 for $10 a lot.
One online transaction and a few days later, I had a box full of the cards.
C and I good cop, bad copped him. We do this a lot. Usually she is the bad cop and I’m the good cop. This makes my turns as the bad cop all the more shocking and effective. The boys literally don’t know what to do when I get pissed off. Anyway, the day before C told him that as soon as he got home and before he did anything, he had to read for fifteen minutes (bad cop). Then, calling back to the summer after 1st grade and my musical gorilla, I told him that for every fifteen minutes he read, he would earn one Pokemon card (good cop).
It really, really worked.
The first day he read for fifteen minutes and earned one card. The second day he read for fifteen minutes and earned one card. About the third day he asked the logical question, “What if I read for thirty minutes?”
“Well,” I said, “that fifteen minutes twice, so you get two cards.”
“And,” I shot my mouth off, consigning myself to having to listen to the adventures in the Magic Tree House a shitload more than I had figured on, “for every book you finish you get another card.”
The next day he read for 75 minutes, finishing one book, putting it down and immediately starting another. He has to read out loud. That’s the deal. Which means someone has to listen. And you can’t tell a recently enthused about books seven year old to pleas- fucking-stop-reading. Our plan had worked too well. He had turned it against us.
Last night he took a book with him to bed. He knows he doesn’t get Pokemon credit for these, it’s just that he wanted to read it to see what happened in the story.
I hope that dude on EBAY doesn’t run out of cards any time soon.