Milam’s Musings, milambc@miamioh.edu

Stephen King said books are a uniquely portable magic, and I’m not one to disagree.

One of the best things my parents ever did for me was engender my love of reading by ensuring I always had books to read at a young age.

And that, as it happens, makes quite the difference in educational outcomes for children.

According to a 2010 20-year study by Mariah Evans, a University of Nevada, Reno associate professor of sociology and resource economics, parents who have books in the home increase the level of education their children will attain.

For instance, a home with a 500-book library boosts a child’s education by 3.2 years on average. So, a child with a family that only had one book in the home would be expected to attain 9.4 years of education, whereas the child in that home with the 500-book library would be expected to attain 12.6 years of education.

This book benefit held consistent across 27 countries, including the United States, and regardless of the parents’ educational background or other factors.

“The results of this study indicate that getting some books into their homes is an inexpensive way that we can help these children succeed,” Evans said.

The solution, then, since we know the outcome, is to find ways to provide more access to books for children, especially low-income children. Unfortunately, libraries aren’t immune to the problem of inequality, as libraries in poorer communities don’t tend to offer as many books, services or hours of operation in which to utilize them.

More investment in those libraries would be a good start — and not just to help read. Libraries nowadays are fully functioning community centers that also offer the amazing wonders of the Internet.

According to U.S. IMPACT Study, when given this Internet access, people use it to find work, apply to college, secure government benefits and learn about critical medical treatments.

I still remember the excitement of getting my own library card as a child and scribbling my signature on the back (the signature hasn’t much improved). Then getting as many books as I could fit into a bag or carry haphazardly.

When I got my driver’s license, the first place I went to was the library. Even now, when I have plenty of books at home, I still find myself drawn to the library and checking out more books.  

Growing up, I had friends, but books were always my best friends. They were the little portals of magic that I could escape into and reemerge hours later, hazily back into reality.

It’s what I call the book hangover. And although they’re not as bad as a real hangover, there’s a certain feeling of loss I get when I reach the end of a good book. My friends’ journeys are complete. The story is told. On to the next one.

Or back to it, as is the case with my re-reading of the Harry Potter series. No series of books quite echos King’s sentiment like the Harry Potter series — and not just because they’re literally about magic. Rather, over the course of 4,224 pages, of which I’ve now re-read 3,824, Harry, Ron, Hermione and the other characters become your friends. It’s a joy to watch them mature and grow through the years and at the time of my first reading of them, I was growing up with them.

I’m already beginning to get the book hangover, knowing that my return journey with my friends from Hogwarts is almost over.

It’s hard for me to understand those who have never found the joy of reading, and instead, reading has the connotation of indecipherable Shakespeare plays and summer reading lists.

A good number of Americans do read, however, according to Pew Research. Among all American adults, half have read more than five books in a given year. That’s pretty solid, given other responsibilities adults have that tend to impede upon reading time.

In fact, one of the hardest parts about college is how much it has impeded on my usual book-reading pace. In a good year before college, I would fit into the tiny bracket of readers that knocked out more than 50 books in a year.

Now, I get through a book normally within a month or so, unless it’s Harry Potter, in which case it’s binged.

This year, I’m on pace for 30 books, a far cry from the goal of 100 I made on Goodreads in January.

My point isn’t to talk about how much I read, but rather how much I love to read. Even with all the distractions readily available from social media to Netflix, there’s still nothing that can compare to reading a good book.

And I wish for others, especially children, to have the opportunity to discover their love of reading as well.

It only takes one good book to reveal the magic.

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