Holden & Huck...of boys and books

March 27th, 2014, 9am

Holden & Huck

You are looking at two books I loved reading as a boy, and still treasure deeply, now that I am not so boyish. Holden Caulfield and Huckleberry Finn, two characters that remain alive in my imagination after all these years, and that I often return to when a certain indefinable mood is upon me.

Like you, the written word is immensely important in my life—not sure how I would get by without it. And while reading words has a utilitarian place in the world, I am speaking here of the pure pleasure of reading for pleasure. So, it saddens me that the extraordinary fictional lives of Huck & Holden (and many others) are going unexplored by so many boys in today’s culture.

Over the years, in my volunteer work, I have met a number of boys for whom books have zero appeal, and, unfortunately, even a few who have confessed: “I don’t read too good”. As a lifelong reader this hurts to hear. To never know how a book can swallow you up whole, absorb you completely into the lives and worlds of other people, places and things, for as long as you like, as many time as you would like, wherever there is light and an open mind, seems to me a great loss.

But a conversation with a real life boy opened my nearsighted, readers’ eyes to the reality that it doesn’t have to be “Huck or the highway” when it comes to the joy of reading.

In a contest between Nintendo and the neighbourhood, the ‘hood always wins for him. This is Peter, a typical 15-year-old Canadian boy, who surprises in so many ways. Through his winning smile he will tell you, honestly, that kids his age spend way too much time inside on the internet. And as your face registers surprise upon hearing this, he flashes that grin again and you simply cannot doubt him. He is, however, typical of far too many boys in one way. He does not like to read.

Hockey is this 15-year-old’s thing, mostly because he likes to be outside and active. He “hates” to read because it’s “boring”. For kinetic boys like this one, I imagine that sitting still with book-in-hand might seem like punishment. For a moment I am tempted to drop it, and the look on his face tells me he’s had this conversation before, and that it always ends here. I press on, suggesting that he just needs to find a topic that interests him. “Sidney Crosby”, he answers in response to my query about his favourite player.

He gave me a half-smile, as he thought about it. I left it there, not sure if he would take my suggestion. But I do know that boys (and girls) like him need a way in, if not to the pleasure of reading, at least to its utility. Otherwise down the road is a very real hurt that I saw clearly in the eyes and behaviour of another boy, 9-years-old, I met who struggled with his reading. Having already absorbed the label of “stupid”, he was constantly on the defensive, reflexively disrupting all that was around him. Desperate for a portal into a world that was hidden from him. This should not be.

I do not know if a hockey star, was the answer. But if it was, a good boy will then know the pleasure of letting this world pass you by for a time while you explore another. And maybe, just maybe, Huck, Holden, and even Harry await.

Adrian said thanks.

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Mark Yearwood

Can a man remake his life? In the woods, no less? I am trying. www.kidsinthewoodsinitiative.org

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