Jan 15

All the sweet serenity of books

So this is ridiculous, I think we can all safely say. I mean, there can be debate about the purpose or use of the library itself today – not in my own mind, of course, but I’ve had more than one person remark about whether my going back to school to be a librarian is a waste and pointless, since libraries themselves are “obviously” on the way out. (Obvious to whom?) This particular angle, though, is a new one for me. The fiction section of the library is a waste of money? Beg pardon?

Our own household is a bit divided on the matter of reading tastes, or perhaps I should refer to ours as an equal-opportunity collection. Eric loves his nonfiction; at the moment, he’s devouring every word Malcolm Gladwell has ever written (if Gladwell penned journals in his youth, or perhaps wrote for his high school’s newspaper, my husband would probably seek out those writings, too). I’m a novel sort of girl, and, unlike that of the selectman in the article, my brain is perfectly capable of handling casts of characters in quantity; I’ve often got a different novel going in every room of the house, in case I happen upon a minute or two of spare time. (That’s a remnant of when the kids were young, I suppose, and the moment it would take me to walk from the kitchen to the living room to retrieve my book might mean that somebody was going to see me and remember that they needed a snack/toy/shoelace tied/potty trip/complicated question answered.) At present, I’m reading:

  • A Feast for Crows (George R. R. Martin)
  • Fire and Ash (Jonathan Maberry)
  • The Complete Sherlock Holmes (Doyle)
  • The Book Thief (Markus Zusak) – not yet started, but in the queue, since Eric gave it to me for Christmas

Not to say that we don’t dabble on the other side of the aisle, of course. Eric recently finished The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon) and is keen to get me to start on it soon, and I’m struggling my way, little by little, through the pile of C. S. Lewis essays that I got last Christmas. (Loving them, but, boy, do they require concentration. I wonder whether the selectman in the article would consider these somehow easier on his brain than a fiction book, and if so, where he gets his coffee, because I could use some of that.) It’s just a matter of what the hand grabs first when the moment arises, and preferences in books vary, as in all things.

When my kids were small, I had complete control over what they read, being the one turning the pages as I was. I tried to show them as much variety as I could, but soon enough, Sam showed me what he liked best, and it wasn’t “once upon a time…” or “there was once a…” My son liked non-fiction. He started off with the board books listing all the kinds of trucks or trains, moved from there into dinosaurs and planes, and by the time he hit third or fourth grade, it was like pulling teeth to pull him away from his books about history and war. School book reports were difficult; the teachers gave carefully framed assignments (“Name the main character,” “describe the kind of conflict,” etc.) that didn’t jive with anything he chose from the shelf.

I should have been happy he was enjoying books at all, and I was, but…well, I wanted to share “literature” with my son. It took me a while to relax about it, but by then I had another, more subtle plan. Sam and Gabe were sharing a room at the time, and Gabe was still game for whatever I wanted to read to him. We did bedtime stories together, mostly to save time, but also to allow me a little license. We were actually doing sillier books, which appealed to Sam even if long tales did not, and then I saw how we could slowly segue into related but less slapstick, books.

Poor Gabe; in order not to bore his big brother to tears, we had to do books that were over his head a lot of the time, but he did his best to follow along. The path went like this:

  • The “Wee Free Men” books (Terry Pratchett’s YA series). Sam and Gabe adored them and begged for more books about those characters, so…
  • Other Terry Pratchett books, written for adults. Sam was entranced; Gabe started to get lost. (Luckily, we split rooms around this time, and he began having his own bedtime.) Sam loved the character of Death best, and also the wizards, but true to form, he fell head over heels for the Night Watch books, which are probably my least favorites. He began reading those on his own as we moved on to…
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams). British humor leads into British humor really well, and both authors were funny enough that he continued to beg for “just one more chapter” every night.
  • Now that we were firmly entrenched in sci-fi/fantasy, I started him on Ursula LeGuin’s “Earthsea” books. They weren’t as big a hit with him, after the first book (the second book was too dark, I think, and he wasn’t eager to keep going, but they made him interested in…
  • The Dragonlance books, sitting on my bookshelf already. Magic! Swordplay! Yay! But since I stick to only those books written by Weis and Hickman, and pretty much just the main series, we soon finished those up and moved on to…
  • The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman). Seriously, now I’m at a point where I’m trying to introduce Sam to every author whose works I sort of really want shaping his young head. I’m standing in front of shelves, going, “Okay, I probably not ready for the subtleties of 1984 or Fahrenheit 451 yet…Piers Anthony’s puns are going to go right over his head…The “Alvin Maker” series? Maybe…”

And all the while, his tastes are growing, and now his backpack is full of both military history tomes and dystopian fantasy. My work here is complete.

(By the way, yes, he’s twelve, and yes, he can read, and no, I’m not planning to stop reading him bedtime stories until he wants me to. My mother read out loud to us in the car pretty much until we left home, and she still reads out loud to my dad. There’s nothing babyish at all about it.)

Gabe, meanwhile, never had to be cajoled into a novel. He devours every book set in front of him. In the past year, he’s whipped through every “Wimpy Kid” book (those take him a couple of days each), “Creature in my Closet” book (same), “Origami Yoda” (he’s just an incredibly fast reader), “Indian in the Cupboard,” and many, many more that weren’t technically series, but whose authors he’s debated emailing to ask if they could be made so. Right now, I’m reading the “Ember” series to him at night, and he’s doing the “Percy Jackson” series on his own, while he not-so-patiently awaits Poached, Stuart Gibbs’ sequel to Belly Up, and a few other coming titles that I can’t recall right now. His first stop at the bookstore or library is often the help desk, asking if his titles have hit the shelves yet.

We read a lot. I couldn’t ask for anything more. A house without piles of books everywhere, packing every bookshelf to capacity and spilling out onto tables, strikes me as empty and lonely. And knowing that there are many, many people in this country who just don’t have the resources to go out and purchase books sufficient to satisfy their minds, I can’t see any good reason why libraries should limit their reach, either by cutting back on areas that some government voice finds uninteresting (Shakespeare? Thoreau? Oh, obviously a waste of space that should be dedicated to almanacs and manuals!) or by disappearing completely (a nightmare world that can leave me behind, thank you).

Gonna go for a run, now, during which I think I’ll listen to the Welcome to Night Vale podcast. That town is home to my favorite library of all, naturally.

In fairness, I was rearranging and organizing when I took this. Our stairs aren't usually something out of "Time Enough at Last."

In fairness, I was rearranging and organizing when I took this. Our stairs aren’t usually something out of “Time Enough at Last.”


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  1. quiltbabe

    The term “asshat” was coined specifically to be applied to that selectman. If he can’t keep up with a cast of characters in a novel, how much of all that history he reads is he retaining?

    Since I bought a kindle two or three years ago, my stack of waiting-to-be-read books has gone up into the high double digits, but at least I don’t have to dust them. I still love physical books, and have several bookshelves that look much like yours.

    I can’t see libraries ever disappearing. Changing format, introducing new programs, yes, but not going away completely. Really, it’s the staff that is the jewel at the library. They can point you toward whatever you may need, no matter what the format the final information is in.

    My personal reading choice is generally fiction, usually mysteries, suspense, sometimes light romance, and surprisingly often, science fiction or fantasy. And it should be noted I’m not above reading “young adult” or “tween” books…and I have no children. I’m making a conscious effort to read more nonfiction, mostly of the theological/Christian bent, though some books on organizing, dealing with people and the like. I’m actually tracking how much I read for 2014, rather than just filing the book when I’m done. Curious to see the final total.

  2. Stephanie

    This post makes my heart happy – especially that you’re still reading to both boys. My daughter will be four months old on Friday and I’ve been reading to her more days than not since we came home from the hospital. It probably sounds crazy, but she does sit and look at the pictures and listen to me. I know it’s all just pretty colors and sounds to her right now, but I truly think it’s important. Both my husband and I are voracious readers and we want to inspire that in our kids. I saw this quote from Anna Quindlin on pinterest and loved it: “I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.”

  3. LB

    It’s good to see you back! I still read to my three all together, even though the oldest is 13 and the youngest is 7. I hope that I will still be reading to the 7yo when he is 13 and the others are off at (shudder) university or whatever. It’s a bit of a challenge to find things that they all enjoy, but we manage. Right now we are reading Howl’s Moving Castle.

  4. TheQuirke

    I found you! And Death is my favorite, too. Other than Granny Weatherwax. And Vimes. Aaaand Vetinari…anyhow. Mr. Q is about 75% non-fiction, 25% fiction and comic books/graphic novels. At the moment, he’s persevering through “The Gulag Archipelago”. I told him he is NOT allowed to read anything out loud. I’m too sensitive a soul. He is tempering it, though, with the “Monsterblood Tattoo” books by D.M. Cornish. I’m like you–I have a book for every room, though I inevitably get hooked by one over the others and don’t get any housework done that day. Or that week, as was the case recently when I reread “The Lord of the Rings”. Stephen doesn’t reread books, generally. I can’t help it, despite how many books I know I still have to experience. Isn’t it wonderful, though, to fall in love with something worthy all over again?

    Also, I babble. Sorry.

  5. Stephanie

    Really, really missing you today!

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