Reading for Pleasure

Best San Jose Sharks Joke Book Ever
Absent from the cover: one of those gold foil award badges.

If Las Vegas had odds on Ryan’s most successful Christmas gift being a book, they would have been in the thousands-to-one range.

But among his Sharks gear (a new Joe Pavelski jersey!) and Jets gear (these!) and a really cool table hockey game, the present he loved the most was, improbably, inconceivably … a book.

We can pretty much count on one hand the times Ryan has read for pleasure. Oh, he reads. He’s required to read 30 minutes a night for his language arts class, and he does — for exactly 30 minutes. He’d stop in the middle of a hyphenated word if the 30 minutes were up.

To motivate him to read on his own required an extraordinary book. This incredible title was seemingly written just for Ryan. It was The Best San Jose Sharks Joke Book Ever.

It’s a collection of mostly harmless, occasionally PG-13 (and beyond) level humor that mocks the Sharks’ rivals. Examples:

How is a pint of milk different from a Kings fan?
If you leave the milk out for a week, it develops a culture.

What is the difference between a Ducks fan and a pot hole?
I would swerve to avoid the pot hole.

You get the idea. Shakespeare, it ain’t.

Ryan loved it. On Christmas Day, he walked around the house, his nose buried in the pages, guffawing out loud. He couldn’t wait to read some of his favorites to his grandparents. He asked what a few of the more, ahem, colorful jokes meant. We worked around it.

It was a HUGE success, and the smile on his face as he read was more than fair return for having to explain away a few off-color jokes. Ryan tore through it in an hour or so and is still telling us jokes from it two weeks later.

He has also found another source of leisure reading. He has spent thousands of hours studying standings and box scores on NHL.com. He memorized the results of at least two full seasons. And on any given day you can ask him for the current record of any of the NHL’s 30 teams and he can give you the correct information.

Hoping to expand on this interest, we encouraged him to read on the site. Game stories, news, features. Anything. But he resisted, insisting he was only interested in stats.

That started to ease when he began to write his own game recaps. They are clearly modeled on the ones found on the site, so I know he has been reading them. But lately, he has found a new reason to read.

He discovered the comments.

Anyone who spends a lot of time on the Web knows that comment threads on popular sites almost always devolve into strings of name-calling and posting of links to dubious work-at-home sites or other illicit materials. Very few sites have the resources to moderate comment threads enough to turn them into productive conversations.

Ryan loves that fans use the comments to poke fun at one another’s favorite teams. He loves that they’re full of trash talk and mocking. He has asked me several times to set up an account for him so he can join in the fun (we’re holding off on that for now). Many mornings, I am greeted with a story of something outrageous that was said in one of the comment threads. That, and a big smile.

OK, so maybe a Sharks joke book and low-brow discussion threads on a hockey site would not be my first choice for my son’s pleasure reading. But he IS reading. More than that, he’s absorbing and wanting to take part. He is discovering that there can be joy in the written word.

Like so many things, it may not be the path we had in mind, but it’s our path and we’re going to encourage the heck out of it.

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