By Kenneth Holley
“Wherever I am, if I have a book with me, I have a place I can go and be happy” – J.K. Rowling
“Read a book” is a refrain that is heard often in our home. Our children and grandchildren know it well. I was listening to one of our grandchildren tell her mother that she was bored. The grandchild walked up to her grandmother and stated, “I am bored” and was told promptly to go “read a book.”
I looked at my daughter smiling because she knew what the answer would be. She and her sisters had grown up hearing this. Whether it was, “I don’t have anything to do,” “It’s too cold outside,” “my friend can’t come over to play,” the answer was always the same: “Read a book.”
There was a joke among our children that if they came in the house and told their mother that they broke a leg, she would say, “Read a book.” As they got older, they would say that they had read all the books, but this never worked. Our house is filled with books and their mother has a library card that is always in use. If you have read all the books here, she would go get a box filled with new books and smile as she told them to “read a book.”
We are a book family. My wife was a librarian and we have been booksellers for more than 42 years. Some of our best times as a family were when we would pack the car with books and sell at different festivals. On these trips they learned to count money, lift boxes of books and how to deal with different people. Times would come when sales were slow and they were tired of running around and they would say, “I want to go back to the hotel,” “we are bored” and then they would hear: “Read a book.”
As the children got older, they would think of ways to get around this answer. On one trip at a rest stop they put all the books in the trunk of the car and after we traveled a short distance we heard, “we’re bored and have nothing to do.” They knew what their mother would say, but they also knew that they had put all the books in the trunk. I looked in the rearview mirror and could see the smiles that said “we won, we got you.” Not to be outdone, their mother tossed them a road atlas and told them to “read a book.”
We wanted our children to know the joys of reading. I would tell them the stories of how I would go on great adventures with Langston Hughes while I sat in a study room in high school. I told them how my mother shopped for books and how much joy they would bring my father. Because of her shopping I became familiar with the authors Zane Grey, Chester Himes and an assortment of others. Over time they too became part of my reading for enjoyment.
Our grandchildren still hear “read a book,” but they equate reading with school and they seem disappointed when they have to turn off the electronic games and phones. We are teaching them that books can be a joy and reading is fun and a book chosen just for you is the one gift that you can count on from the grandparents.
Now if you come to our house and you bring children with you and they get tired of running around and your child approaches my wife and asks for something to do, they will hear, “read a book.” We use this phrase not only at our house, but share it with other family, friends and in the community. What better advice is there than “read a book.”
Kenneth Holley and his wife radiate a love of reading in their Buffalo home.