I didn't read correctly as a child. Wait, wait! I knew perfectly well how to read. I just didn't follow conventional developmental patterns in my reading. I've probably mentioned this. The main reason for this was that I had no one to suggest books to me. Neither of my parents were readers. In fact, I don't think my father has ever read a book, and I know my brother has never completed a book, not even for school. My mom reads occasionally, but she's not a "reader" nor did she grow up spending a lot of time reading. I'm somewhat of an aberration, since how much a child reads is almost always determined by how much the parents read and how much encouragement they give the child in reading. But I started reading early. Before kindergarten. I just didn't know what I was supposed to be reading.
I started out reading science books. Non-fiction. Yes, I'm serious. I was into dinosaurs, so that's where I started. In fact, in 1st grade I got accused (by my teacher!) of making up the word paleontologist when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. She made me go to the board and spell it for her. Because, you know, if I could spell it, somehow, that meant I hadn't made it up. No, I don't really follow the logic, either, but there you have it. I spent the first few years of my schooling reading texts about dinosaurs and astronomy, mostly. I branched into history next. I was in 4th grade before I really discovered fiction. The Hardy Boys. By that time, some school counselor or something had told my mom that I had some kind developmental delay in reading, because I wasn't reading what other kids my age read.
And I still haven't read a lot of those books. I just didn't know about them. Make a list of books you read and loved as a child, and I would bet I haven't read most of them. Some of them, I may not have even heard of. My wife, after more than a dozen years of marriage, still reacts with shock and dismay when she mentions books she read and loved as a kid that I've never read. Like The Wizard of Oz. The Edward Eager books. The Phantom Tollbooth. Of course, I've been trying to correct some of these oversights, and I have to say, if you haven't read it, go, right now, and get Tollbooth. It's awesome!
To make this even more clear, I loved, loved, loved Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (this being the movie, not the book) when I was a kid. I still adore that movie. Gene Wilder is amazing. As much as I love Johnny Depp, he will never come close to Gene Wilder as Wonka for me. In fact, I really don't much like Burton's movie version of the book. Here's the thing, I grew up thinking that that was just a movie. I had no idea that there was a book, and I was, probably, in my 20s before I even heard of Roald Dahl. After all, he's not exactly high school reading.
Last year, my younger son had to read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for school. That was 3rd grade. I just want to point out, that I didn't have to any read any books for school until I was in, oh, 5th or 6th grade, when we started having to do book reports, and we got to choose the books. My kids started getting books assigned in 2nd grade. I don't know if this a difference caused by evolution in the wider school system or if it's because I live in California, now, and not Louisiana (not exactly known for its stellar educational system). At any rate, I remembered, at that point, that I'd never read a Dahl book and decided that I should fix that. I ordered both of the Charlie books.
I finally got around to reading them, recently. I was disappointed. And I was disappointed that I was disappointed. I went into it fully expecting the like the heck out of the books. I mean, I loved the movie! I'm not sure there's been any other movie from a book where I've liked the movie and not the book. It's unprecedented. The cliche response is always, "The book was better." But not this time. I should have whizzed through the 150 pages of chocolate factory, but I disenjoyed it so much that it actually took me two weeks to read it. I felt bad about it, too. And my son... well, my son is still in disbelief that I didn't like the book. Maybe, I shouldn't have told him? However, I did know enough to know that my daughter, our not-reader, would like it and passed it on to her, and she did like it, so that was good.
I've tried to reconcile this whole issue of not liking the book. Maybe, it's just because I'm an adult, now, that it didn't click for me. That's totally possible, although I haven't had that issue with other books. I still love Narnia, after all. So, I thought, maybe the movie just got in the way for me. Because I love the movie. Have I mentioned that? I still do. But, really, the movie is not exactly the book, and, maybe, I just wasn't liking it because it didn't mesh for me. I thought, I'll read Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, and that will be better, because I won't have any false expectations for that one.
I didn't like it either. I felt really bad. Part of that one, though, is that it takes place, mostly, in space. What? That's not where Charlie belongs. I couldn't come to grips with that. We've gone from a book about a magical chocolate factory to an adventure in space? I'll say it again: What!?!? But it goes beyond that. I really just don't enjoy Dahl's style. It's too... sporadic, for lack of a better term, for me. He seems to have the attention span of a teenager in the way he writes. I couldn't deal. Glass Elevator also dragged for me and took much longer to read than it should have.
My wife, also, can't believe that I don't like the books. But I can't help it. I'm fairly certain I won't try any more Dahl.
Now, I'm not saying that there weren't clever bits of writing in there or even that I may not have chuckled once or twice, but the books just didn't take hold in me. I'm glad my kids like them, though. Maybe, if I'd followed a more conventional reading path as a child, things would be different, but I can't say I'm sorry for the path I took. Although, I do wish I'd had someone along with me that could have said to me, "Hey, why don't you try this? I think you'll like it." I could have augmented the path I took if I'd had someone there to do that. More than anything else, I try to be that person for my kids.