Messing about in books

Mara did not jump into a love of reading at an early age. Being read to, sure, and being told stories…always and without end. But not reading on her own. This is something I’ve had to work hard to accept as a parent, and especially as a parent who, in the days before dishes and laundry whelmed my life o’er, was once an avid reader. Mara can read very well when she wants to, and in the two or three months since Angela gave her a booklight her normal bedtime behavior after lights out has gradually shifted from playing in the dark with dolls and horses to reading books. It’s so quiet in there we think she’s fallen asleep, but she’s reading. At various times in the past she has occupied herself in bed with books, but mostly it was looking at pictures. She never liked slogging through big blocks of text. Her favorite books were the critically acclaimed graphic novel series, Bone, by Jeff Smith. Lots of evocative imagery (much of it rather scary for a seven- or eight-year-old, I’d have thought), and minimal text, all of it dialog. While the Bone books will always occupy a revered place on our bookshelf (I fell in love with them after an initial revulsion based on a quick flip-through), Mara has lately moved on to Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones and other text-heavier books.

One day recently I felt like sitting and relaxing. I considered checking my social pipeline — email and facebook, blogs — because it’s easy and it’s what I do almost without thinking. Then I thought, my daughters almost never see me sit and read during the day, during their day, when they are awake and busy and in the house. There is probably not a picture in their heads of “dad reading a book”, even though the image of “dad’s attention being sucked up by the computer or the smart phone” is doubtless permanently branded on their brains.  How will they ever develop a love of just sitting down with a good book if they never see what that might look like?

Mara was working on her new Ravensburger 300-piece puzzle of puppies, kittens and hamsters. Miji (yes, Emilia’s nickname continues to evolve) was at her Legos on the floor. Angela was busy answering work emails. I went and fetched Timothy Egan’s biography of photographer Edward Curtis, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, one of the books I’ve been picking at for months, and settled onto the couch for a spot of good old-fashioned reading. In a trice, Mara left her puzzle, fetched her copy of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid*, and cozied up next to me. Angela was quick with the camera. It was a moment that I’ve waited for for a long time.

A little parallel book time on the couch

A little parallel book time on the couch.

Mara may not become one of those teenagers that’s always slouched in a chair upside down reading a book, or one of those people who read while walking along sidewalks and crossing busy streets. That’s okay with me. She’s not playing computer games all day or watching TV. She likes to run, climb and hang from things. She’s a healthy kid in all ways. But sitting there side by side, I reading my biography of Curtis and my daughter reading (silently, not sounding out words or whispering or mumbling, which would have been okay, too) about the travails of the wimpy kid… well it just felt like a little piece of heaven.

*I actually disenjoy some of the attitudes expressed in the Wimpy Kid books, such as references to certain boys “getting all the girls”, which, when I was reading out loud to Mara, forced us to stop and have a conversation about what she thought that might mean and whether or not that was a constructive way to approach society. Nevertheless, the books have the right picture/text ratio and Mara seems engaged by the protagonist’s plight, and anyway I prefer discussion over outright censorship, which is not to say that I don’t reserve the right to exercise the latter at any time and without having to justify myself. Selah.


10 Responses to “Messing about in books”

  1. 1 aplscruf October 30, 2013 at 07:31

    Ah, reading time is the best, isn’t it? My son reads, still, but in smaller quantities. Once he finds a good book, though, he dives in. The most recent find was Pete Townshend’s autobiography. His childhood books included Shel Silverstein and the Harry Potter series. Of course, I failed to convince my very conservative (ex) boss that my son was not going to become a wizard from reading Harry Potter. In fact, my son and I had many great discussions on themes from the book, including love ruling over hate, and choosing the right path.

    • 2 Matt November 2, 2013 at 19:17

      I need to read Pete Townsend’s biography. Angela is reading those Potter books to Mara now, and does a proper job of all the different voices. You should hear her to Hagrid or whatever his name is. I was working in a bookstore when Harry Potter books first hit the shelves, and I recall all the worry of the extreme right, how they would be the ruin of our youth. Au contrair, mon frer. It got a lot of ’em reading.

  2. 3 Mom/Gramma October 30, 2013 at 08:13

    Ah, a priceless picture. I’m so glad she has finally begun to really enjoy reading. It goes with the territory so to speak.

  3. 5 James Crossley October 30, 2013 at 10:01

    I too have to grit my teeth when the Wimpy Kid books come off the shelf. We have one or two that came from a thrift shop (I think) but I’ve told Jasper we won’t be buying more. He can read all of them he wants if they come from the library or anywhere else, but I don’t want to waste my money on them.

    I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “Hey, dad, Greg Heffley says . . .” And every time I want to say, “You know Greg Heffley’s an idiot and you should always do the opposite of whatever he says, right?”

    • 6 Matt November 2, 2013 at 19:24

      James, this made me laugh, picturing you coming as close to outburst as I can imagine, which isn’t very close. Not sure why your comment got hung up in approval, sorry.

  4. 7 Marni October 30, 2013 at 17:15

    Such a priceless moment, and picture. Modeling works…who knew?

  5. 9 Librarian Girl October 31, 2013 at 08:33

    I love everything about this post. Just everything.

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