All over the world, teachers are trying to convince their students that reading is in fact, great, and that everyone should do it. The students usually respond to this with a casual shrug, then return to doing drugs and fornicating in the bathroom, or whatever it is normal teens do.
The problem is, these teachers and pro-reading people are going about this the wrong way. People won’t start reading books because of “mental stimulation” or the fact that it causes “stronger analytical thinking skills.” Hell, I don’t even know what half those words mean. All I know is that kids are selfish, and the best way to get them to open a goddamn book for once is to tell them about the ways in which it will directly benefit them, particularly in the short term. Like, how books can get you out of sticky situations.
Let me tell you a story about something that happened to me in the eighth grade, back when The Jersey Shore was still around, Miley Cyrus wasn’t yet considered a cautionary tale, and my bus got pulled over at least once a week. I usually sat in the back with all the obnoxious (yet funny) kids, but because I sensed that something bad would happen, I sat near the front.
Sure enough, the kids in the back were throwing things out the windows, and one of the things (I believe it was a half-eaten sandwich) landed on a police vehicle. The cop got mad and pulled the bus over. Then he walked inside and yelled something along the lines of, “Hey, I’m a cop. You don’t throw things at cops,” and then he left ten seconds later and went on with his day. It was a bit anti-climactic, really.
But it wasn’t over. Now the bus driver was all pissed off at us, so to get even she stopped in a parking lot and called the school, and kindly informed us that the principal was on his way to set us straight. Plus there was a bus cam, so they knew the names of everyone who threw something out the window. If the school did what they usually did, everyone responsible would end up getting a referral or ISR. One of my those kids (let’s call him Eddie) snuck up to the front and sat next to me.
“This is my third strike,” he said, all sweaty and nervous. He told me about the last two times he got in trouble, and how they told him if he was caught doing anything bad again, he’d be kicked off the bus for the rest of the year. You’d think after the first two times this happened to him, he’d learn not to throw shit at police vehicles, but that apparently wasn’t so.
I didn’t hold that against him, however. I was a very understanding eighth grader, I liked to think, and I agreed to help him out. And in what turned out to be one of my wisest moves, I pulled a book I just happened to have borrowed from the library that very day—The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien—and handed it over to him. Now, this wasn’t just any old version of The Hobbit. This was a fancy, gorgeous,
sexually attractive edition illustrated by some freakishly talented artist, and it was brand new, too. I could’ve spent days just smelling it, which isn’t creepy at all.
“Pretend to read this when he gets here,” I said, making sure to act as if I’d done this before. “It leaves a good impression on people.”
Eddie shrugged, and I guess he figured there wasn’t anything else he could do. So when the principal arrived, he did his best to look too invested in the novel to even be aware of the man’s presence. The principal, an intimidatingly tall fella, stepped into the aisle, staring down all the kids in the back. His eyes eventually lowered towards Eddie, who was still pretending to read. The principal’s face softened slightly as he gave Eddie a brief nod of approval, and then he moved on to the back of the bus to continue yelling at the other kids.
A nod of approval, people. A NOD OF APPROVAL. And the best part is, all those other eighth grade trouble-makers in the back were punished for their actions, while Eddie got off scot-free with a new-found ideology to boot. Eddie now refers to himself as Bilbo Baggins Jr. and started his own Lord of the Rings fan club.
Okay, I made up that last part, but I like to think he at least recognized and respected the value of reading, and with angsty middle school students, that’s really the best you could hope for.
Moral of the story: Books can be helpful in surprising ways.
Also, I’d like to point out that I had saved my friend from the totally evil clutches of authority, and that makes me a badass rebellious person. I’m basically Han Solo.