My ten-year-old doesn’t like to read fiction. If you give him The Boy’s Book of Everything, he’ll read it from cover to cover, but offer him a story and he won’t even pick it up. I’ve secretly blamed it on the fact that he’s been pushed to read things at school that are developmentally inappropriate, which he has, but — what I’m really afraid of is that he’s not a “reader.” I’ve told him that he just hasn’t read the right book yet, but he doesn’t seem to care that there might be a fiction lover hiding within. When we go to the library, he grudgingly picks out a few non-fiction titles, and I always throw a few of my old favorites into the basket in hopes that I might lure him to the “other side.”
At the library with him a few days ago, I searched out, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. He was unimpressed when I told him that it was about kids who hide in a museum, and I knew the next time I’d see it would be when we brought it back. That evening, I was checking my email when he started begging me to get off the computer so that he could go online. About to tell him “no,” I had a brainwave. “I’ll let you have half an hour of computer time for every fifteen minutes you spend reading that book.”
To my surprise, he paused. “Fine.” I must have started to look a little too excited, because after a moment, he changed his mind. “Nevermind, it’s not worth it.” I felt like a fisherman who let the big one get away.
Tonight, though, he walked into the kitchen after dinner and said, “If I read that book for half an hour, can I go on the computer for an hour?”
“Yup,” I said, trying to appear nonchalant.
“Where is it?”
I told him, and he sat down at the ktichen table to read. “Why don’t you go sit in one of those comfy chairs in the living room?” I lured. Then I walked away like I didn’t care. When I returned, he’d moved. I found him sunken into the couch cushions, reading. He actually had an absorbed look on his face. As I cleaned up the kitchen, pretending to ignore him, I kept sneaking peeks at him, turning pages. Bizarrely, a swell of pride filled my chest. My son, reading one of my favorite books from when I was that age. I imagined a future with him sitting quietly in the living room, enjoying all of my old books. I turned back to the sink.
“Has it been half an hour, yet?” He was standing behind me. It had only been nine minutes.
“Is it really that bad?”
“No,” he said. “I just want to go on the computer.”
“What grade would you give it?” I baited him.
Really? Some of my happiness flooded back. “You have twenty-one more minutes.”
I set the timer, and he settled back onto the couch. When the buzzer went off, he set the book down and ran to the study.
After he’d gone to bed, I went into the living room to put it back in the library bag, but it was gone. Going into his room, I saw it on his night stand.
Sometimes, you just have to reel them in slowly.