Learning to read has to be the first of what seems to be magical tricks discovered, but over time has its machinations dulled and origins obscured. This skill of code-breaking is not explained but humbly practiced; it is a movement of the eyes left to right, from top to bottom, and repeated. First, of course, we hear its cadence, its enunciations, before we internalize its music in solo attempts. Then over time each letter, each shape, is given a reckoning by the movement of silent lips and the transom of bending lights in our thoughts. Letters come, coagulate, morph into sounds called words, and words, like train cars, lock onto to other words and we have sentences, sentences stacked into paragraphs, pages, and ineffable transformation ensues. Speed and spelling arrive, meaning and imagination through being and time.
I was encouraged to read, and had role models. Mum read, Dad did daily crossword puzzles and my older brother, Kevin was a bookish stereotype. One morning while he was in the shower, I picked up his school book and read a paragraph or two about a famous pirate. I mentioned this at the breakfast table afterwards and was praised, and began right that moment my romance with the page.
It wasn’t until my freshmen year at university that I truly learned to closely read a text. I was angry and wounded by my ignorance, which made me act toward the text in such a way that it would not be getting the better of me. I sat down at a dining room table with a textbook that was particularly difficult and resolved to read the assigned chapter letter by letter, word by word, paragraph by paragraph, only advancing if I fully comprehended its codes, connotations and denotations. I used a ruler to cover the text, allowing me only the line above the metal strip. I read aloud each word and moved through the text at a glacial pace. I wrote notes in the margin in pencil. I looked up words. I got through and it got through to me. I still have the textbook its spine cracked, its pages falling out, its leaves covered in my handwriting. It is a book on myths and symbols, approppriately enough.
Reading, science tells us, can make you more intelligent, more relaxed and more empathetic.
Let the magic happen.