Booking your kid for a summer of reading can have a happy ending


If you are the parent of a high school student and would like to ruin his or her summer, here's a good way to do it: Make the kid read books.

This is what my wife and I did to our 15-year-old, and it really worked.

He says we made his life miserable.

He says none of his friends have to read books during the summer, so why should he?

He says we're the meanest parents in the whole world.

So the other day, we decided to level with him.

"The only reason we had kids," we told him, "was to make them miserable. This is what we set out to do every day. Every day we think: What can we do that will really tick off our kids?

"It's so much fun. When you have kids of your own, you should try it."

The boy rolled his eyes and went back in his room, picked up a book and started to read.

Oh, it was a beautiful moment.

It nearly brought tears to my eyes.

It was back in June, shortly after school ended for the year, that we sat the boy down for a little talk.

Here's the deal, we said. So that you remain the budding young genius that is your destiny, you have to read a book a week and write a two-page report on it.

It doesn't have to be a long book, we said. In fact, it can be any book you want, as long as it's not a joke book or something.

The boy did not take this well.

In fact, I have been in courtrooms and seen men sentenced to hard time in the slammer who reacted better.

Apparently, since he'd just turned 15 and was too young to find a real job, the boy had envisioned an endless summer of sleeping until noon, basketball, video games and wiping out whatever was in the refrigerator.

But not reading.

No, reading was not on his itinerary.

Nevertheless, in the weeks since that incredibly mean edict was handed down, the boy has read five books.

He read a novel by sportswriter Mike Lupica called Travel Team and one of the Harry Potter books and a book on Alcatraz prison that we bought on a recent family vacation trip to California.

He also read two teen suspense novels by Roland Smith called Zack's Lie and Jack's Run, about two kids caught in the middle of their father's drug-trafficking escapades.

Of course, to ensure that we know it's still him and that his body was not snatched by aliens and his mind reprogrammed, he often says things like: "Why do I have to read?" and "I hate reading" and my personal all-time favorite, "Reading is stupid."

These statements, of course, are designed to press our buttons.

"Reading is stupid -- I'm putting that on a bumper sticker and slapping it on my car," I say.

But for all the grief he gives us, I have come home from work this summer and the boy has come up to me and said: "Can you drive me to the library? I want to get a couple of books."

At times like this, of course, it's my turn to press some buttons.

Why should he have all the fun?

"I thought you hate to read," I say.

"I do," he says.

"I thought reading was stupid," I say.

"It is," he says. "Can we go?"

So we get in the car and the kid screws around with the radio, and now I have to listen to Foo Fighters or Red Hot Chili Peppers or something like that on the way to the library.

But when we get there, he goes off happily in search of books and I don't see him for 45 minutes as he rummages through the stacks.

And when we get back home, there are times when he doesn't turn on the TV or play video games right away, but starts reading whatever book he just took out.

I guess my wife and I should feel bad about how we ruined his summer and all.

But you know something?

When you're as mean as we are, you kind of live for that stuff.

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