25 April 2013

Reading Rainbow

There was a great piece in the New York Times yesterday, “Memories of a Bedtime Book Club,” by Book Review writer Dwight Garner. In it, he described the nostalgic, bittersweet process of putting away his family’s collection of picture books, since they hadn’t been read in years, his kids being 13 and 15 now. It made me think about our own miniature book club experiences and reminded me of something I don’t always think about: that this time is finite. That I too will pack up a bunch of picture books someday.

Can I go ahead and get sad now for that inevitable development?

It’s going to be a pretty big job. (And I don’t just mean that metaphorically.) Our collection recently swelled to the point where it fills an entire bookcase in our older son’s room. This can be attributed to the addition of a second human into our world and the requisite influx of adorable board books that goes along with it. It is also the result of enrolling both of them in a program called Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, in which you can sign up to have your kid receive a book of Dolly’s choosing every month until the age of 5. That’s a lot of books. And it’s helped us to discover a bunch of writers and artists we might not have otherwise stumbled upon.

It has also allowed our son to learn a woman named Dolly Parton is sending him books.

“We got a new book.”

“Is that from Dolly Parton?”

“Yes. Yes, it is.”


I mean, I’m already nostalgic. Having a second kid allows you to just wallow in it. To keep reading all those books that the older kid has outgrown, to feel those words on your tongue again, to realize they never left your brain, that they are perhaps permanently seared there.

But I hope that even though they outgrow certain books (as they do clothes, shoes, car seats, everything else under the sun) I’m optimistic they will never outgrow books. I mean, they’re not going to be able to escape them. The place is full of them and always will be. 

As long as the little one stops dragging them all off the shelf and spreading them around the floor, endangering them all with his grabby hands, his iron-like grip, and his endless reservoirs of saliva. We get it, we appreciate your interest in Italian neo-realism and female graffiti artists, the absurdist works of Samuel Beckett and the history of LSD, but all in due time.

(Also, you cannot watch Seven. Or Boogie Nights. Or Training Day. Please stop dragging these things off the shelf and examining them all with that wide-eyed, inquisitive look of yours. Someday. Maybe.)

Another thing Garner gets right in his article is how amazing it is to be able to pass on books that we enjoyed as kids to our own children. And to rediscover them at the same time. Lately, the Doozer and I have been reading a lot of Shel Silverstein. Prior to this, I hadn’t cracked a Shel Silverstein book in decades, but that guy was kind of a genius.

Although, there is a weird undercurrent of darkness throughout his work. Many, many references to death. I find myself trying to rush through these sections, even sometimes (the writer in me) attempting to rewrite certain passages on the fly to be a little less morbid.

But why? What for? I mean, I get the instinct. Just like I’m not looking forward to the day they’ve outgrown these books and I have to box them all up, I’m not looking forward to them outgrowing anything. I want them to stay these tiny perfect creatures. I want to maintain their innocence, but I also want to fill them with wonder and wisdom and truth. I’m going to censor Shel Silverstein? What’s wrong with me? There’s darkness in the world, things die. Get over it.

Maybe I’m protecting myself. From the reality that they will experience pain someday. Anguish. Heartache. Maybe that’s what I’m avoiding. As long as they are little, their pain is relative, denial of certain toys, or missing out on sweets. Those are manageable. But what about what happens to them later? When I pack up those books for good and they start heading out into the world without me? Hopefully I’ve filled them with hope and curiosity and knowledge and truth.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Maybe this time is finite. But I know, even if it ends, it will stay with me always.

I am a lifetime, charter member of this book club.

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