The Benefits of Reading for (and to) Others

Confucius once said “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day… …but teach him to read, and he’ll be able to keep his little brothers occupied for hours.”

Or something like that.

And it’s absolutely true. In my house, we don’t have Readers and Non-Readers; we have Genuine Readers and Readers Who Read Vicariously Through Others. I love it.

Last week, as I headed off to work through the softly falling snow, Dominic the Hunter was sitting in the living room reading his history lesson. Aloud. To James the Fifth, who sat there quietly, absorbing some of the finer points of the history of the Buddhist religion. (There was some ongoing confusion as to whether or not one can move up the reincarnational chain. James thought it unlikely; Dominic was less definitive.)

In the kitchen, The Third Mark was working through his history lesson. Also aloud. And also not alone. David (#4) was there beside him, listening quietly to an account of America’s child labor laws. (OK, not exactly quietly, but as close to quiet as he ever gets. The little guy’s a perpetual motion machine, especially when he’s learning.)

Fun times.

Crime and Partners

I’m particularly amused by the ways in which their various reading competencies are manifested in their baby-sitti….er, reading styles. Sean has an impressive vocabulary, and is (Chicken? Egg?) a voracious reader. So having him read to you is just about as good as having Papa read to you. …except Sean doesn’t fall asleep. (Oh, and he’s very, very dramatic in his interpretations. Which is very, very fun.)

Dominic’s vocabulary is fair-to-middlin’; his reading, workmanlike; his demeanor, borderline stoic — not too fast; not too slow. Makes me feel like he should read “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” pretty much all the time. (Actually, the “averageness” makes him practically perfect for the younger set. Very managable.)

Mark’s vocabulary is hilarious. It’s either ruthlessly literal or his best-and-fastest guess. (Both of which mean it’s great fun for me as I listen to him). His reading is almost-painfully-slow-but-stubbornly-steady-and-getting-faster-every-day. And a big part of that rapid improvement is the significant chunk of time he spends reading to his younger brothers. Virtue is its own reward!

Nearly every night, as he and the three youngest head downstairs to prepare for bed, he asks if he can read to them while awaiting my eventual arrival. As a “veteran” parent, I realize there’s a fair bit of the ol’ “Embrace Anything That’ll Put Off the Inevitable” going on, but I don’t mind. And I get such a kick out of Cormac clambering desperately for “More Teenteen!” that I allow myself to be played.

Reading to the siblings. It does a family good.

David, Still Somewhat Skeptical of This “O. Henry” Dude

About Joseph Susanka

Joseph has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. A grateful resident of Wyoming, he spends his free time exploring the beautiful Wind River Mountains, keeping track of his (currently) seven sons, being amazed by his (currently) lone daughter, and thanking his lucky stars for Netflix.

  • jbdavis

    Definitely! I recently heard a history podcast pointing out that we shouldn’t think of being unable to read as being uninformed. Their example was that in Dickensian times households of nonreaders were often entertained nightly by a family member or friend reading to the whole group. Just like at your place! :-)

    • Joseph Susanka

      I think I’m going to start describing my home as “Dickensian” from now on, Julie. Especially since I’m essentially Mr. Micawber.


      • jbdavis

        As long as you’re not Mr. Dorrit … :-D

        • Joseph Susanka

          Gosh, I hope not. ;-)

  • Maggie Goff

    What a wonderful post! I would love to be a fly on the wall some day…and night.

    • Joseph Susanka

      Thanks, Maggie! Some days (and certain inter-sibling interactions) might make for better fly-watching than others, though. It’s not all as cute as the pictures.

      • Maggie Goff

        Oh, I can imagine. I’m the oldest of five, and way out of childhood. However, I certainly do remember ;)

  • Stefanie

    One of my favorite memories of my brother and I involves my reading “To Kill A Mockingbird” to him when he was in high school and I was in college. He had signed up for an American Literature class and since he had dyslexia, he was truly struggling to keep up. Each student could choose the book they would do for their book report but it had to be a book on the teacher’s list. He knew I loved the TKAM film, so he chose that book to read so that we could discuss it. Unfortunately, he kept falling farther and farther behind on the number of pages he needed to read each day. After a week of seeing him genuinely frustrated, I just told him, “Look, let me read it to you.” And so I did. Every night for three months, after we had finished cleaning up the dishes, I read a few pages to him as we sat at the kitchen table (because that had the best light in the house). At the end of the semester, my brother got an “A” on his book report — the first “A” he had ever gotten in something that wasn’t a sport. Because it was the story of a brother and a sister, it really set the stage for our own relationship as adults.
    The following semester, he took a “Science Fiction Literature” class so I ended up having to read to him “A Stranger in a Strange Land.” That experience felt to me like penance…I never have enjoyed that genre. After that, I told him he was on his own!

    • Joseph Susanka

      That’s a great story, Stefanie. Thanks for sharing it!