My wife and I like to remember our graduate school days together. We were still fairly early in our marriage, we were living in a new city, and we didn’t have much money. Not much at all. But that was sort of the fun of it.
We ate Totino’s pizza and boxed mac and cheese multiple times each week. We were careful to make sure the AC was never set too low and that we didn’t turn the heater on too early during the year. And for entertainment?
Well, a couple of times a week we would drive up to the Barnes and Noble a couple of miles from our apartment, grab a couple of armchairs, and read without buying any books. In fact, this is how we got all the way through Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. One elven song at a time, we sat in the back of that store and read, sometimes each with our own copy from the shelf, sometimes out loud. It was lovely, and it made memories that we wanted to carry on to our own kids. We decided then I think, even if we didn’t say it out loud, that we wanted to have a family who read, and read together.
Let me elaborate with a few reasons why it’s a good idea to read together as a family.
1. To stretch your collective imagination.
The imagination is a muscle, given to us by God. And like any muscle, without regular exercise, it will atrophy. But when you work it out, it grows stronger and stronger. By its very nature, reading is one means by which we exercise our God-given imaginations. You have to visualize people, places, and actions because they’re not spoon fed to you visually. As you use it, though, you find your imagination of your family begin to grow. And that effects other attributes of your lives as well.
A strong imagination means conversations are more rich. There is a greater hunger for detail when we tell our stories from the day. Smaller things become more wonderful because our perspective, as a family is being broadened. This is an amazing way to live, for as G.K. Chesteron said, “Contemporary society has become dry, not for lack of wonders but for lack of wonder.”
2. To spend quality time together.
How much time, in an average week, does your family spend together? It’s a penetrating question, and I’m acutely aware of the fact that as our family continues to grow older, that amount of time is becoming smaller and smaller. Sports, homework, activities, work – we’ve got all these things going on, and as they do, they continue to squeeze us.
If we’re not careful, the only time we really spend together will be time when each of us is focused on our own thing – we just happen to be in the same room together. There is precious little time when we are all focused on one thing (and even more precious when that one thing is not some kind of screen).
Reading together is one help to this. Even if it’s just 30 minutes. These are precious moments, carved out, when you are not only together physically, but you are together emotionally and intellectually. You are sharing this experience together, as a family, and that is true quality.
3. To grow your attention spans.
Reading isn’t easy. And I’ve found that reading out loud is even more difficult. It takes a level of concentration that we are increasingly becoming unaccustomed to in our culture. Our news, our food, our relationships – it’s all microwaved. Reading counters this cultural leaning because of its slowness.
You have to wait for the slow burn of character development, plot revelations, and emotional investment. This patience is a gift we can give our children – and something we can always use a little more of ourselves.
4. To establish shared memories.
Tuck Everlasting. A Wrinkle in Time. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Where the Red Fern Grows. These are a few of the titles we’ve read together as a family in the last several years, and it’s amazing to me how deeply and specifically the kids seem to remember these experiences.
Through these books, we went on journeys together. We shared the experience, and they have become milestones to our family. And, Lord willing, our kids will carry memories like these into their own families.
Friends, our family is getting older. Yours is as well. That means the moments we have together – moments to laugh, cry, cheer, and celebrate – these are not an unlimited resource. Reading is one simple, but powerful way to take advantage of them while we have them.