Monday, February 6, 2017

Why is a Reader like a Pickled Onion?

Just before Christmas, I was invited to visit our local Waldorf School, to speak a few words at their end of year assembly. I also got to shake hands with the students who'd completed the Premier's Reading Challenge and present their awards. I have nothing to do with the Challenge, but on the spur of the moment, the teachers thought it would be nice to have a guest from outside, instead of their normal, familiar faces. Being a bit of a rush job, I was the quickest person they could find. The teacher who contacted me expressed sadness in her email that few of her students read for fun anymore, since their attention automatically turns to digital games and social media for entertainment. She wanted me to inspire them to see reading as cool, if I could. I was a bit nervous, but willing to take up the challenge. 

I remembered a blog post I'd shared quite a long time ago on Christian Writers Downunder, about readers being like pickled onions. It gave me an idea to raid my kitchen and take along a couple of props (as you see above) to make my point. When I asked for a show of hands who likes pickled onions, there were only six or so across the whole auditorium, so it became a challenge to get them interested in different foods as well as reading :) Here is the gist of what I said.

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If you're an avid reader, you're probably a pickled onion. That's meant to be a compliment. The longer we've been reading, the more pickled we are. Let me explain.

You peel your raw onions and soak them in a delicious, briny solution that you've made up with yummy ingredients such as vinegar, brown sugar and spices. Eventually, a chemical reaction takes place. The onions you take out are nothing like the hard onions you put in. They are soft enough to bite chunks straight out of in a way you'd never manage with the original raw onions. Some people think they are a delicious treat. Whether you like them or not, one thing is clear. They can never go back to being the same hard, raw onion they started as. They've been changed to the core.

Books are like the delicious brine and readers are like the onions. We get to soak in stories, biographies, reflections, inspired thoughts and knowledge. These are the ingredients that make up the brine. We come out better and different. We're spicier people with softer hearts. We can have more interesting conversations. We're more creative than we would have been, more clued-up about the world, more empathetic, less inclined to be self-focused.

From the time we were young, the brine has been working its special chemical reaction on us. We get to wonder, 'Would I have succumbed to the White Witch's turkish delight if I had been Edmund?' We see Milly Molly Mandy living with all her relatives in that thatched roof cottage, loving their simple lifestyles even though they had hardly any money. Like Beauty, we grow to understand the Beast's many great qualities, fall for him too, and realise that judgment based on first impressions is limited. We follow the whole process of the work on Marilla Cuthbert's heart until she decides to keep Anne at Green Gables. And how could Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy end up together after the bad start they had?

We're pickled onions, and we wouldn't have it any other way. We have softer hearts. We've been given insight into human nature which makes us more understanding than we might otherwise have been. We're simply nicer people, based on our reading history. And those of us who are also writers have the fun of making up our own special brine recipes to help pickle more onions. 

Do you think you can overdo it at times, though? What can happen if you stay soaking in the brine for too long? Find out here.

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