Reading books to children

When my children were little we would read to them all the time. Mostly I think they liked to snuggle next to us and be given a lot of loving attention, but they did have favorite books that they liked to hear over and over. Later, there were movies they wanted to see again and again.

I’ve been known to read novels more than once if I like them. (I’ve read Philip Roth’s novel The Ghost Writer at least fifteen times.) I’ve always said that you can’t really begin to know a piece of quality fiction until you’ve read it at least twice. Knowing this about myself, I never gave a second thought to the children and their desire, especially when very young, to hear the same story again and again.

Lately, though, I have given it a second thought, and I think I understand why they did. My theory is that when children are little, they don’t really comprehend that a story is a continuous narrative. They may hear about a puppy. Then about a puppy meeting a butterfly. Then about a puppy drinking water. Then the puppy plays. And so on. But I suspect they took these in as discrete events. Only by hearing it over and over were they able to cobble these individual events into a continuous story about the same puppy happening in time. Later, as their understanding grew more sophisticated, I suspect they were reading or watching for more subtle things, like the consistency of characterization or parallel plot structures.

I think my writing may be at the other end of this continuum. I am so focused on getting the whole story fitted together, making all of the individual scenes work to the whole that I’m missing some opportunities to write these scenes as discrete events. I think there is a kind of rhetorical power in writing a scene for its own sake (and fitting it into the whole). So I take another lesson about my writing. I need to see how well my scenes can stand up on their own. I expect to address this when I get to the rewrite stage. (Boy, I have a lot of things to get done then.)

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