I recently found this brief anecdote – in document form – from 2003. But the lesson is still valuable in any year…
3 lessons from reading The Hobbit last night:
1) Take pleasure in the words.
2) The qualitative experience is more important than efficiency.
3) They appreciate things you don’t.
– Last night I’m reading The Hobbit to my daughters. It’s not my favorite book. It’s already past 8:30. I’m just starting a new chapter. Tolkein’s chapters are rarely fast. There’s no way I’m going to be done by 9:00 p.m. I roll my eyes and try to marshall my patience. I have at least 4 things I want/need to do after the kids go to bed. But right now I have to get through Tolkein’s prose.
– I start in hurried. But I feel guilty quickly. This is not why I’m reading. And this is not why they’re listening. This is certainly not why they picked this book. I take a deep breath and remember my own advice: Take Pleasure in the Words. I begin to seek out the colorful adjectives, the active verbs, the Middle-Earth pronouns, the dramatic or humourous juxtapositions that make the prose come alive. I’m reading slower; I’m never gonna be done with the chapter by 9:00; but I can already see it in their faces. This is why they’re listening. They want to be turned on the by the juxtapositions, the hanging drama lurking in individual phrases and half sentences.
– I remember another lesson: The quality of the experience is more important than it’s efficient execution. There are lots of times when you feel like you need to rush to finish. But this should not be one of them. So what if we don’t finish the chapter? Or so what if I have to read past 9:00? One of ‘em has to give. I want to enjoy the experience – my half hour with my kids. Quiet, contemplative, stimulating, shared. This is the way to do it.
– Still, the chapter is a slow one. Gandalf is taking Bilbo and the dwarves to see some half-bear creature called Beorn. He instructs them to come up to the cave two by two in 5-minute intervals. Right away I can see that we’re in for a reprise of the first chapter – re-introducing the 12 dwarves – who I can’t keep straight anyway – let alone do all their voices. I brace myself, and prepare to speed up. But I can see also this is meant to be a humorous chapter. The bear-guy feigns surprise every time two new dwarves show up. It’s the same joke 6 times. But I can see that while the joke is old to me it works and builds and is funnier each time for my children. I need to do it justice, I need to sell Tolkein’s joke because it was meant for them. And isn’t one of the things I’m after the vicarious experience of seeing ther joy, seeing them laugh, bringing them a stimulating experience???
– I slow down again, sell the chapter, and enjoy my half hour with them. We didn’t finish the chapter. But I was reminded of valuable lessons. And they are all the more eager to finish the chapter tonight…