Some Thoughts on Dickens and Popular Literature

Right now I am reading Bleak House.  I haven't read any Dickens in longer than I can remember.  I read most, if not all, of his novels when I was very young and then burned out on him.  A few of his novels have really stuck in my memory but Bleak House is not one of them.  All I really remember is that there is a case of spontaneous combustion in the book at some point which I found disturbing as a child.

  I am about a third of the way through the book right now and I am finding it fascinating. Fascinating, not necessarily because of the story itself though that is good, but because of what constituted popular literature in Dickens' day.  His books were immensely popular.  They were serialized in magazines and newspapers and people waited eagerly for the next installment.  So eagerly that when The Old Curiosity Shop was being serialized crowds waited at the docks in New York desperate to find out what happened to Little Nell.  I read somewhere that the poor and illiterate would pay to have the latest installment read to them.

And now we view Dickens as difficult.  If you ask the average person to read Dickens they are going to refuse, probably with memories of high school forced readings of A Tale of Two Cities.  If someone finds you voluntarily reading Dickens they are likely to view you as a bit of a show off.

How have we gone from a world that goes crazy over Dickens to a world that goes crazy over Fifty Shades of Grey?

I know there are beautifully written, literary works of fiction being produced in our day.  However, those are not usually the ones that take the average reader by storm.  Dickens did in his day though.  I wonder what makes the difference.  Obviously many in his day were not well educated.  Many were just average people.  But now, reasonably well educated, average people view Dickens and authors like him as too difficult.  So many popular authors of their day such as Jane Austen, Fanny Burney, Charles Dickens, and Anthony Trollope have now become challenging.  But when they wrote they were what the average person read.  They were the popular authors of their day.

Occasionally, I worry for our day. I worry about a world that won't commit to an eight-hundred page novel but instead wants everything in 140 character tweets.  (Though the thought of trying to condense Bleak House into a series of tweets sounds like it could be entertaining.)  I am not sure what it is.  Do we have less time?  A shorter attention span?  Has our reading style really been dumbed down?  Are we less literate?  Do we have too many distractions?  I don't know.  Maybe it is a bit of all of that.

But Dickens should be read.  His characters are clear and appealing. So many have become part of our language,  Scrooge, for example.  His depiction of London and the England of his day is enthralling and horrifying in equal parts.  His ability to tell a story is obvious.  He had his flaws like any author does, I don't always feel drawn to his female characters,  but what really amazes me on rereading him is just how readable he is.  He knows how to hook a reader.  That is why they waited on the docks for the next installment of The Old Curiosity Shop.  He had them in the palm of his hand. He was a consummate storyteller.

Little Adventures and Interesting Things

a walk in the woods

It was 65 degrees.  At the end of December.  On the east coast of the United States.  That is just crazy.  But it does mean that we were able to go for a walk and we didn't even need jackets.  Actually, the kids and I went for a walk,  my husband went for a motorcycle ride since his ankles are still not fully recovered after spraining them a few weeks ago.  But who would think he would be getting his motorcycle out of the garage at the end of December?  He was a very happy man.

I drove my kids slightly crazy by continually stopping to take pictures, though my daughter ended up not minding too much because we found lots of interesting things to look at.  She told me that life is an adventure and lots of things are interesting and we need to point them out or people might miss them.  That is not a bad life philosophy.

ferns and foliage

woodlands and moss

A lot of things are still green.  I think the plants are a bit confused.  That's okay, we are too. We saw some gorgeous fungi.  (There is a sentence I never thought I would write.)  They really were gorgeous though.

fungi in the woods

fungi in the woods

fungi in the woods

We also saw this cool sign lying on the ground.  The Indian Chair is a natural stone formation. There is also a Table Rock at the same site.  We didn't have time to walk all the way there but my daughter is determined that we do so next time.

Indian Chair--woodland walk

It was an enjoyable walk.  We were surrounded by that indescribable smell you only get in the woods, there was the sound of running water from the stream nearby, and my children only bickered occasionally.  I think that makes for a successful afternoon.

I hope she never stops thinking that life is full of adventure and interesting things.

a girl in the woods

Does Blogging Change The Way You Read?

I started thinking about this the other night as I was trying to write a review of London Belongs To Me.  I was struggling a bit and I wasn't sure why.  After all, it was a book I had enjoyed.  I should be able to express that in a brief review.  But still, I struggled.  All I could think to write was a bit vague as if I was saying "I liked it, you might like it, read it."  Not really an earth-shaking review.

Then I realized, over the last few months, I have developed two different ways of reading.  I read to blog and I read to read.  That is not to say that I read things only because they will look good on the blog.  I read what I want because I want to read it.  However, sometimes when I read I do so with the idea of having to talk about it afterward and sometimes I just read for the sake of reading.  (Is anyone else feeling that the word "read" is losing all meaning after that paragraph?)

When I read with blogging in mind I do so with post-it notes by my side.  When I like a paragraph or sentence or thought I stick a post-it note on it.  That way when I want to write a review I can easily find the quotes I want to use.  The problem comes when I don't decide that I want to write about a book until I am all done with it. Then there are no post-it notes and I am left with the feeling that I want to start a conversation but don't know what to say.  Sometimes a book is thought-provoking and it is easy to know what to say because you can't get it out of your head.  Sometimes though, you just want to say "I like it, you might like it, read it" just with more detail.  Maybe I should read all books with post-it notes by my side?

Also, a lot of books are read on my Kindle and you can't use post-it notes with a Kindle.  I know you can highlight things but I have always used that to save quotes that mean something to me.  I am struggling a bit with adding quotes, not because they mean something to me but because they will be needed for a review.  Maybe I need a notebook?

I am probably overthinking this.  I overthink things quite frequently, but how do you balance the need to keep the analytical side of your brain awake with the need to just get lost in the book?  Do you learn to do both?  Reading has always been my escape and I don't want to lose that but I enjoy talking about books and that means I need to be specific sometimes. When I am talking in person about a book it doesn't matter if I have the quote exactly right but it sure matters when I am writing.

I will figure it out in time.  I will find a process that works for me.  In the meantime, I am sure I will spend a lot more time staring at a blank screen and thinking "I like it, they might like it too, they should read it."

London Belongs To Me by Norman Collins

If only this was true. If only London did belong to me. I am involved in an ongoing love affair with London and the title of this book is what first drew me in but once I read the description I was sure it was my kind of book.

This is the account of 10 Dulcimer Street and the people who live there.  Mrs. Vizzard is the landlady and the picture of rectitude until she falls in love with Mr. Squales.  He is a bogus medium determined to find a comfortable home to land in, preferably with a wife to support him.  Mr. and Mrs. Josser have lived at number 10 for almost a dozen years.  He has just retired and dreams of a house in the country, she isn't so sure.  They are the characters around whom the story revolves.  Mr. Puddy dreams only of food and eats his way through his duties as the night watchman.  Percy Boon and his mother provide much of the drama.  He gets involved in some very illegal activities that cause repercussions for all.  Connie is an elderly actress now working in a nightclub as a cloakroom attendant. With a few other minor characters wandering in and out it could be a recipe for disaster, a book that tries to do too much with too many people.  Yet, somehow it works.

I think it works because it doesn't try to pretend to be something it isn't.  Really, it is a bit of a soap opera of a book, though that implies sex, violence and illegitimate children and that is not what this is.  This is a soap opera about working class people of the 1940s.  And it is a soap opera without huge events, except for Percy Boon's escapades.  It is a picture of a time and a place and a people.  It begins in late 1938 and ends just as the bombing of London was beginning during WWII.  It is a picture of people on the verge of change.  It is a war book without really being a war book.  The war was infringing on people's lives but they were not always completely aware of it.  And then, there it was.

London Belongs To Me was a fun book to read though that may seem like a strange thing to say about a book set in the early years of the war. But really, that is what it is, a fun book.  It is the kind of book you pick up and don't want to put down.  You tell yourself you will read just one more chapter. But then you want to know what happens and you find yourself one hundred pages further in and still reading. It is a huge beast of a book with eccentric characters that you get attached to. They are drawn with humor and empathy.  I was sorry to say goodbye to them.

Words That Sing

apple tree

When I was in high school I had an English teacher who every day would put a poem up on the board.  She never discussed it or even mentioned it, but every day when we walked into class there would be something new.  I wasn't much of a poetry reader but I was a reader, an obsessive reader, and if she put a piece of writing on the board I was going to read it.  Most of it didn't make much of an impression.  I read it, thought it sounded nice, and moved on.  But one day she put an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem up and it was different.  I don't really know, I am still not much of a poetry reader, but it put images and ideas in my head.  I knew exactly what Millay was talking about even though I had never thought about it before.  This is the poem.

Not in a silver casket cool with pearls
or rich with red corundum or with blue,
Locked, and the key withheld, as other girls
Have given their loves, I give my love to you;
Not in a lovers'-knot, not in a ring
Worked in such fashion, and the legend plain-
Semper Fidelis, where a secret spring
Kennels a drop of mischief for the brain:
Love in the open hand, no thing but that,
Ungemmed, unhidden, wishing not to hurt,
As one should bring you cowslips in a hat
Swung from the hand, or apples in her skirt,
I bring you, calling as children do:
"Look what I have!-And these are all for you."

I copied the poem down in a notebook and went home and pulled out my mother's Millay anthology.   As I paged through I found other bits and pieces that I liked.  Lines here, phrases there, stanzas on the next page, words that said something to me without necessarily telling a story.  I had always loved the story, that was why I read.  I devoured books for the story, the adventure, the romance, the mystery.  But poetry, this was different.  It was the beauty of the language that meant something. It was the way words could be strung together to make, not a story, but a sound, a rhythm, music.

I am still not much of a poetry reader.  I still devour books and I still like the adventure, the romance, the mystery.  But I learned something that day.  I learned that the language is as important to me as the story, maybe more important.  I learned that sometimes you can read a book or a poem or a letter or anything really, and the words can sing.  And that, when the words sing?  That is a special kind of magic.

What Happened to Winter?

Theoretically, it is December.  I should be huddled in layers, slipping and sliding on ice and snow, and drinking innumerable cups of tea.  Only the last is true, but that is always true.  Right now it is 60 degrees outside and I only need a sweater.  If this keeps up things are going to start blooming.  I am not complaining, it is just strange.

I am reading like it is winter though.  It gets dark so early that I don't really want to go anywhere.  I just want to curl up with a book and an afghan.  I am just finishing up Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky.

book--Suite Francaise

I did not realize when I bought it that it was unfinished.  It was supposed to be a series of five novels, but only two were finished before she was arrested and sent to Auschwitz where she died.  Her daughters kept the notebook her writing was in but never read it until the late 1990s.  They had always thought it was a journal and that it would be too painful to read.  They were going to donate her writings and decided to read them first.  That is when they discovered what they really had.

Suite Francaise begins with the Nazi occupation of Paris in 1940 and draws a picture of a country in chaos.  It does not really tell the story of individuals, instead it uses the stories of people to tell the story of a country.

I really enjoy her way with words and how she can use them to make a subtle point.  Here is one quote I liked that highlights the attitude of the townspeople toward the refugees.

"But they were all right, time would pass, soldiers would fight while the ironmonger on the main street and Mlle Dubois, the hatmaker, would continue to sell saucepans and ribbons; they would eat hot soup in their kitchens and every evening close the little wooden gates that separated their gardens from the rest of the world." 

That little line about closing "the wooden gates that separated their gardens from the rest of the world" says it all.

Nemirovsky emphasized the effects of the occupation itself.  I found that so interesting.  The French and Germans were enemies, they fought each other, but then the Germans came in and took over a town and the two peoples got used to each other.  There was a constant pull between the individual and the nation.

"War...yes, everyone knows what war is like.  But occupation is more terrible in a way, because people get used to each other.  We tell ourselves, "They're just like us, after all,"  but they're not at all the same.  We're two different species, irreconcilable, enemies forever."

And this,

"There had been no men in the village for so long that even the soldiers, the invaders, seemed in their rightful place.  The invaders felt it too; they stretched out in the sunshine.  The mothers of prisoners or soldiers killed in the war looked at them and begged God to curse them, but the young women just looked at them."

It is obvious this is an unfinished work, some things don't flow and there are inconsistencies.  However, it is an unusual and beautifully written work.  It is such a tragedy that it was never able to be completed.

I know a movie was based on this.  I am debating whether or not I want to see it.  I have a conflicted relationship with movies based on books.  Has anyone seen it and if so, do you recommend it?

Wartime Women

book--Wartime Women

Wartime Women, edited by Dorothy Sheridan, is a Mass-Observation anthology.  It examines how the war affected the lives of women.  So much changed for women during the war years. Many of their husbands were gone, they were working outside the home, even the attitude towards women entering pubs changed.  This book examines the changes, many times using the women's own words to give a clear picture of the world they lived in and what they thought of it.

I have read quite a few Mass-Observation based books and this one is a little different.  Many of the others use diary extracts to paint a picture of the world, frequently following a few individuals.  This book quoted from diaries, but it also used reports written on concerns of the day and observations sent in to "directives" issued.  These directives were basically questionnaires used to collect information on various subjects.  These reports and directives discussed everything from driving in London to the demand for day nurseries to opinions on women in public houses.  The diaries are fascinating to read but sometimes they assume you have knowledge common to the day.  The reports fill in some of these gaps.

While the information in the reports is very interesting, what I really enjoyed was the way the women's voices and personalities came through.  So many of them used humor to cope with situations beyond what they had ever imagined.  For example, Muriel Green kept a diary and submitted it to Mass-Observation for the entire war.  I would really love to read more of her entries, but anyway, at one point she and her mother and sister are in their beds and;

"I listened and heard machine-gun fire, lay in bed and listened and heard burst after burst of guns.  This was about eight o'clock.  Mother called out, 'Do you think they are landing on the beach?'  She then said, 'If they come I shall get under the bed and lie low.'  Jenny said, 'I think I shall be more of a success with them if I stay in bed!'  We all laughed and after a time it stopped and I went to sleep again."

It isn't the world's best joke but it gives such a clear image of the women and their relationships and how they coped.  I marked another example of the same type of reaction.

"Mrs B.  was telling me that when the Belgians gave in she felt terrible-she felt like sitting down and weeping her heart out.  Then she started to plan what she had better do if we were invaded-for she was certain we would be invaded right away and she planned that she and Mrs M.  would take the old car, pile all the kids into it and get away-and when she came to think of the old car starting off all piled up with bedding and kids it struck her as so funny that she sat down and had a good laugh-and that was that."

"And that was that."  Fear, sorrow, weeping, planning, laughter, "and that was that" and they all got on with it.  I think that is what is so amazing.  Lives were changing, attitudes were changing, the world was crashing all around them, but "that was that."

This book collected information from a huge range of women of various ages all living in wildly different circumstances.  The whole thing comes together to give a fascinating picture of women's lives and attitudes during WWII.

Books I Bought #2

book stack

I have managed to acquire quite a few books in the last couple of weeks.  Hmmm.  Somehow that sounds a little vague as if the books just happened to me.  Let's be blunt.  I have bought quite a few books lately.  Most of them came from a library book sale and from Goodwill so they were very affordable but still, my shelves are starting to groan.  In fact, my parents just bought me a new bookshelf for all the books stacked in front of the built-in ones in my living room.

So, from top to bottom here is what I have.

The Backward Shadow by Lynne Reid Banks.  This is the sequel to The L-shaped Room which is the story of a young, unmarried, pregnant woman who moves into a boarding house in London after being turned out by her father.  The Backward Shadow follows Jane as she lives in a cottage with her child and tries to make a future for the two of them.  I read The L-shaped Room a few weeks ago and I thought the author made life in a London boarding house during the late 1950s come alive.

Alternative Alcott by Louisa May Alcott.  An anthology of some of Alcott's less famous works.  Some I have read before, such as "Hospital Sketches", but some I am unfamiliar with, such as "Diana and Persis" which the blurb on the back says is her last unfinished novel.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.  It is described as the imagining of "the lives of a group of students growing up in a darkly skewed version of contemporary England."  It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf.  I have only read Mrs. Dalloway.  I feel like I should read more Woolf.  Isn't that what educated people do?

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.  I think the only Wharton I have read is Ethan Frome.  I read it in high school and I hated it.  It made me mad.  I didn't like the characters,  I didn't like the affair they were having, and I got so angry when they drove their sled into a tree. (Sorry if you haven't read it and that spoils it for you.)  I thought it was so selfish.  I fumed about this book for days and got in an argument with my teacher about it.  Since I was a painfully shy girl and very quiet in class you can see that I must have been pretty worked up about it.  Recently I have been thinking that any author that can leave that big an impression on me must have something going for her so I am going to give Edith Wharton another try.  Besides, it won the Pulitzer Prize.  Apparently, this is also what educated people read.

The Diary of Mattie Spenser by Sandra Dallas.  Mattie marries Luke and they go off in a covered wagon to start a new life in Colorado.  The book is written in the form of her diary.  I like novels written as diaries, I like pioneer stories, I thought I might like this.

To Serve Them All My Days by R.F. Delderfield.  The story of a shell-shocked man who returns home from WWI and takes a temporary job as a teacher.  He ends up teaching for several decades.  I have read Delderfield's The Dreaming Suburb and The Avenue Goes to War and I enjoyed them.  I like huge saga type novels that keep me busy for days.

Chatterton Square by E.H. Young and William by E.H. Young.  I really enjoy her novels. I wrote a review of one a few days ago.  I just love her writing style.  I am slowly buying all her novels.  I hear good things about Miss Mole and will have to look for that one next.

I actually ordered two more books online but they haven't come yet.  Is there anything in my stack you really recommend?

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off...

In my husband's case, this was literally necessary.

 I mentioned last week that the kids were going to my parents for the weekend.  We were going to have the whole weekend to ourselves.  Just imagine, eat what we want, talk about what we want, do what we want, for a whole 48 hours.  This doesn't happen very often so we had really built it up into a big thing in our heads.

So, let's set the scene.  The kids are all packed, I am upstairs almost dressed for our dinner out after we drop the kids off.  We are supposed to leave in five minutes.  My husband walks down the stairs to the family room to make sure my son has his computer.  Except he didn't really walk down the stairs.  He fell down them instead and sprained both his ankles.  Badly sprained his ankles, they instantly swelled up to twice their normal size and started turning black and blue.  He is yelling, my daughter comes running upstairs screaming at me that there is something wrong with Dad and I am frantically trying to get my inside-out shirt back on so I can go down and figure out what is going on. Almost the first thing my husband said to me was "we just can't win, can we?"  The poor guy.

So, no dinner out, no trip to the book store, no hike. (Yes, those are our ideas of fun. We are not "going out" people.)  Just a husband who was unable to get off the couch for the entire weekend.

Not quite the romantic weekend we had envisioned.

Such is life.

It wasn't all bad though.  I dropped the kids off, picked up Chinese food and the makings for ice cream sundaes and we spent the weekend eating, watching movies, and having fires in the fireplace.  And my husband made a valiant effort to pretend he wasn't in pain.  But he was.  He is slowly getting better though he has some pretty spectacular bruises.

I did get a bit of reading done.  I read a mystery I got off the free book rack at the library. I can't remember the title right now and it is already in the attic in the donate box. It was populated with thoroughly unlikable characters.  I mean what are the odds of every single main character cheating on their spouse?  Annoying.  Besides, there really wasn't much mystery to it.  I started reading one of the books about WWII that I bought recently.  That I am finding very interesting.  I also read about half of some chick-lit type thing but then abandoned it because I just didn't care if I ever saw it again.  I debated starting one of the unread Persephone books I have on the shelf but I couldn't quite bring myself to do it.  Does anyone else hoard books they think they might really enjoy, waiting for just the right time to read them?

I didn't do the Classics Club spin but I did think that I would just check what the 19th book on my list was.  I didn't feel motivated to make a separate list since mine is new and mostly unread.  Anyway, it is Middlemarch.  That is the book I have been feeling moved to start next anyway but I am a little unsure.  I read it at a much older friend's suggestion when I was a very early teen and I struggled with it.  I am not sure why, I enjoyed other classics at the time, but Middlemarch just didn't work for me.  I am hoping I was just too young for it and reading it now will be a different experience.  We will see how it goes.

The Misses Mallett by E. H. Young

books--e.h young

The Misses Mallett is the story of two sisters, Caroline and Sophia, their half-sister, Rose, and their niece, Henrietta, who comes to live with them upon the death of her mother.  They live in the town of Radstowe and queen it over local society.  Caroline, in particular, likes to reminisce about all her conquests but she never lets the rest of her family forget that "Malletts don't marry."

Rose, leading an unfulfilled life, falls in love with a man who has a crippled wife.  The love is never acted upon but the wife knows and is bitterly jealous.  The arrival of Henrietta seems to be a bit of a catalyst in all of the character's lives.  She brings new life to the older sisters and shakes up the relationships and lives of those around her.  Henrietta herself seems very immature and lives in a bit of a fantasy world.  She dramatizes herself into being in love with the same man as Rose which leads to all sorts of emotional complications.

I really enjoy the way Young develops her characters.  They are quirky and interesting and flawed.  I don't have much patience for a perfect heroine.  There are no perfect people in the world so don't give them to me in books.  All the characters had unlikable characteristics but their motivations and feelings were so clear that I sympathized with them.  They were complete characters with strengths and weaknesses.

A novel about small-town life and a group of single woman leading simple lives could sound like a cozy read but that isn't what this is.  The emotions, interactions, and introspective thoughts make it slightly unsettling at times, maybe because her flawed characters awaken us to the flaws in ourselves.

This was just the kind of book I enjoy.  I want to visit Radstowe now.  I was told that it is based on Bristol.  The writing was very evocative of a time and place.  I always appreciate books with good character development.  The older I get the less I care about the plot and the more I care about the people.

 I have read a few other of Young's books.  I hear good things about Miss Mole.  I will have to find a copy of that next.

Little Things #6

I am writing this sitting on the couch with the cat next to me. He is snoring like crazy and he looks a little ridiculous, kind of like he is drunk  The wind is blowing outside and life is pretty peaceful.

Jack the cat

I went consignment shopping and out to dinner with two friends the other night.  It was a really good day.  I don't usually go out in the evening without my family.  My bizarre sense of guilt makes me think I should be home making sure everyone is fed and does their homework.  However, that is about as ridiculous as the cat is.  They aren't going to die if I am not there.  Though my daughter did keep emailing me with questions her father could have easily answered.  I think she just likes emailing.

I really enjoy consignment shopping.  I like clothes, not obsessively but I like to be dressed nicely.  However, I don't have the budget to spend lots of money on clothes.  My kids are outgrowing theirs too often for me to do that.  If I shop at consignment stores I can have the clothes I want at a fraction of the cost.  Besides, it is like a treasure hunt.  You never know what you are going to find.  My bargain of the day was these shoes.

Michael Korrs shoes

Michael Kors shoes for $14.00.  That made me pretty happy.  And can we all agree that it is a good thing I usually write about books and kids and everyday things because I would never succeed as a fashion blogger?  Honestly, how do you make shoes look interesting in a photo?  I just plopped them on the floor and snapped a picture but I am pretty sure that is not what you are supposed to do.  I also got a Hilfiger blazer for $0.99.  It looks brand new and they usually run about $100.

The kids are going to spend the weekend at their grandparent's house.  They are really looking forward to it and so are my husband and I.  I am a firm believer in the benefit of occasional time without kids.  It is good for the kids to spend time with their grandparents and it is good for us to have time to ourselves.  We are going to go out to eat tomorrow night at a restaurant that is not kid friendly.  In other words, a restaurant that doesn't have pictures of the food on the menu.  I can't wait. Maybe I will wear my new shoes.

My daughter just reread A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  She liked it more the second time.  Now she is looking for recommendations of books about boarding schools and orphans who overcome hardship.  I thought of Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster and Mandy by Julie Edwards. Mandy is about a girl in an orphanage but I think it is the kind of story she is talking about.  Does anyone else have any other ideas?

How to Turn Your Child Into a Reader

children's books

I have always loved books and I have always wanted my children to love books as well.  Even before I seriously thought of having children I was saving books for them.  I still have most of my childhood books and I have eagerly waited for my kids to be ready to read the stories I loved when I was their age. I have even written before about how I enjoy recommending books to my daughter.

But how do you convince children that reading is fun and not a chore to be gotten through as quickly as possible? How do you make reading and books as automatic as breathing?

First of all, and you would think this would be obvious, read to them.  I am amazed when I hear parents say that their child is too young to be read to or too young to appreciate books.  Your child is never too young to be read to.  Read to them when you are pregnant, read when they are newborn, read when all they want to do is chew on the pages.  If you start trying to read to a child when they are three it will be hard to keep their interest. They will wander away and get distracted.  If you read from infancy it will be a habit.  They will associate reading with you, with comfort, with something they enjoy.

Read to them often.  One book read quickly at bedtime is not going to turn your child into a book lover.

Read what they want, even if it means you read the same book 500 million times.  Children love repetition, parents not so much.  Do it anyway.  I still have The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton completely memorized from years of reading it to both kids.

Let your child see you reading.  It does no good to tell your child how awesome reading is if you never do it.  Children can smell a hypocrite a mile away.

Books should be readily accessible.  Have a basket or a bookshelf where they can go and pull out the books they want to look at whenever they want to do so.  Books shouldn't be put up as special and untouchable.  They should be everyday objects.

Take them to the library.  Make it a fun excursion.  Let them pick their own books, even if it means they get the exact same books they got two weeks ago.  Remember, kids like repetition.

Keep up with your child's comprehension.  A 5-year-old may only be able to read a picture book by himself, but that doesn't mean that is the only thing he can understand.  His comprehension is above his ability to read at that point.  Read the chapter books to him.

Don't try to turn every book into a learning experience.  Let your child just enjoy the story.  If they want to talk about it, that's fine, but no one enjoys always being taught a lesson.

I know teachers are very into reading at grade level but I don't always agree.  Many kids want to try a book that is supposedly too hard for them.  If you let them try they might succeed beyond your wildest dreams.  If you talk them out of it they might not try again.  Do you want to stifle their initiative?

By the same token, it isn't going to hurt them to read books that are too young for them sometimes.  My son went through a stage when he was much younger when he read all his little sister's picture books when we got home from the library.  They were way below his reading level but he enjoyed them.  That is what you are going for, enjoyment.  Do you always want to read a challenging book?  I didn't think so.  Neither do our kids.  Sometimes they just want to read something easy and that is fine too.

Remember that your kids are not you (this one is hard for me!)  They may not love the same books you did (Oh, the horror!)  Find the books they love.  My son developed a love affair with Star Wars books at a very early age.  That did not come from me  but that is fine.  It is really the love of books in general you are going for, not the love of a few specific books.  Besides, some day he will be desperately trying to convince his children that Timothy Zahn is the best science fiction author ever and I will get a lot of pleasure out of watching that.

Don't make reading a chore.  Being told you have to read a certain number of minutes or a certain number of chapters is a guaranteed way to destroy any desire to read.

Buy books.  They don't have to be expensive, thrift stores frequently have books for sale, but buy them.  The library is wonderful but sometimes you just need to own the book.  Kids understand the joy of possession.

Teach them that books contain not only stories, but knowledge as well.  The internet is all well and good and you can google almost anything but sometimes it is wonderful to give a child a book that tells them what they want to know.  Is your child interested in the solar system?  There is a book for that.  Maybe it is sharks or dinosaurs or how to crochet.  There is a book for that.  Children can really enjoy poring over a book that fits their interest. They might find their answer quickly online but they will find answers to many things they didn't realize they wanted to know if they read a book.

I firmly believe that one of the most important things you can give a child is a love of books and reading.  Worlds are opened for them.  Knowledge is at their fingertips. Tolerance and empathy are learned. Imagination is sparked.  Boredom is impossible.  All you need is a book.