“I just want to READ”

Screen time in our household is quite limited.  For a variety of reasons, we got rid of Netflix, our DVD player, our TV, and one of our smart phones (replaced with an old-school clam style dumb-phone).  We use our computers for work and writing blog posts (Life With The Crew, Hare Brain Investments, etc).

What do we do with all of our non-screen time?  We play outside, we cook, and we read.  On an average winter day, I would guess my daughter spends at least three hours outside, and on an average summer day, I would guess that number creeps towards five hours.

This is not to say that my daughter completely ignores screens.  She exhibits curiosity about the work being completed, but generally she remarks “just computer work” and walks away from the screen asking that we play rather than work.

Instead of watching TV shows or movies (she has seen neither), we read to her.  On an average day, we read to her about two and a half hours – one hour in the morning, one hour at ‘nap’ time and a little more than half an hour at night.  The books run the gamut from the Little House on the Prairie series to children’s readers to her current favorites – “Bilbo” (The Hobbit) or “Frodo and Strider” (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy).


There are some dark moments in the books – when Beorn has the goblin head on a pike and warg skin drying in the sun; she knows that passage as: “Beorn had a warg in a cage and a goblin in a trap.”  Rather than “Slicing a head” clean off, the orcs are simply “bonked” on the head with the sword.

We have now completed The Hobbit three times and are working our way through The Lord of the Rings.  I know these books are challenging for her to understand but she gets the large plot pieces.  The nuanced plot pieces and symbolism escape her grasp.

A lot intrigues me about the reading experience with her.  For one, she does not miss a single word.  She may not understand the entire story, but she can probably repeat it verbatim.  I also believe the stories are hard enough for her to understand that she has to use all of her energy to comprehend them.  What intrigues me most is that when I read the story, she settles in to listen.  She does not fidget, pay attention to the dogs, or entertain any other distractions.  She sits next to me and as I read, she gets that thousand yard stare, which I usually associate with extreme tiredness, but for her, I believe it is extreme concentration.  She will sit with that vacant unblinking stare for 45 minutes while we read chapter upon chapter of the books.

Yesterday we read at least two hours of “Frodo and Strider”.  At 9.30pm  was ready for bed and told her that it was time for bed.  She immediately burst into tears sobbing “I just want to READ.  Why won’t you READ to me?!?”

My wife and I chuckled.  There are worse things for a kid to be screaming.


I first encountered Franz Kafka the summer before I took AP English in High School.  We were required to read and report on a certain number of books, the number determined by a convoluted point scheme.  As an engineering minded individual I determined the shortest books with the highest point value (ie: least number of pages to satisfy the requirement).  Kafka’s The Metamorphosis made the list.

I’m still unsure how I feel about that story or what the hell it even means.

Over the ensuing 20 years I think about Kafka maybe twice a year.  Really, I’m unsure why anyone would think of Kafka, but on the occasions that I do think about the author I always ponder the meaning of The Metamorphosis.  I am still just as clueless.

Yesterday I was listening to Tim Ferriss’ podcast with Ricardo Semler.  I am a fan of Semler and his business philosophy.  If I ever start another business, it will be similar to SEMCO.  In the podcast, Semler describes another Kafka story that he would share with MIT MBA students, Kafka’s Before the Law.

The story is about a man who wants to enter a gate but there is a gate keeper in the way.  The  man waits his whole life and still doesn’t go through.  At the very end of the man’s life, he asks the gate keeper why no one else has even approached the gate.  The gate keeper replies that this gate was just for the man and the gate keeper then shuts the door.  (A translation of the story can be found here…not the best translation but you get the idea).

The meaning I take from Before the Law is that to achieve most of our desires/goals in life we will encounter some type of gate keeper, generally in the form of fear (False Evidence Appearing Real).  To get to what we desire, we have to look fear in the eye and recognize it for the nothingness it really is.

Many, many times, the gate keeper makes it difficult to approach the gate, but always, once I’m on the other side of the gate and looking back, it’s not nearly as scary as I imagined.