I’m not sure what you’d think if you looked at the titles of the books I’ve recently checked out of the public library.
My recent readings include Scientology, dying with dignity and post-apocalyptic fiction. I can assure you I am not about to become a Scientologist. I am interested in the topic of how life ends, but not enough to hasten my own. And the apocalypse? I don’t mind experiencing it from the safety of my couch.
That’s what books do. They take your mind places your body can’t or won’t go. I can travel the world – or the universe – with something that fits in my purse. I never got into Kindles or other e-readers, although they work for some. For me, those aren’t the same as a real, live book. There is a delicious feeling of turning literal pages, hearing the scrape of paper and seeing the reveal, where anything is possible until you read the next paragraph.
Passing it on
I’ve always tried to instill a love of books and reading in my children. From our very first days together, we read. And read. And read. By the thousandth rendition of “Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb” I was ready to hide that little cardboard book.
My heart, however, would melt when a toddler ran toward me waving that favorite, so we stopped what we were doing, climbed into the recliner together and read about drumming on a drum. Even today, I can recite that Al Perkins classic by heart. While it was a bit annoying at the time, it brings back fond memories of my daughters racing across the room to grab yet another chubby book out of the plastic bin for reading time.
My parents didn’t read to me. I don’t think they really had the time. My dad worked shifts at a manufacturing plant, and there were days I didn’t see him much. My mom was an incredibly smart woman but had a limited education due to her immigration as a teenager.
The greatest gift
One thing my parents did do, and which I consider one of their greatest gifts to me, was to let me read whatever I wanted. Even if he was just coming off a shift, my dad would drive me to the library and we would both check out piles of books. My small town library was limited, so there were times I’d just walk around and pick things that sounded interesting. In middle school I read about topics as diverse as Leonard Bernstein, the Holocaust and a relatable girl named Margaret.
When my children were old enough to pick their own books, I followed my family tradition. I gladly signed school library forms allowing them to look in “older” sections. When they exhausted their school library options, we drove down to the public library. Even now I gladly buy them books, whether it’s Harry Potter or “The Fault in Our Stars.”
As they’ve grown older, they’ve read less and less. It is the ultimate irony: Thanks to school work, there is no time left to read. At their age I was devouring dozens of pleasure reads a month. They are lucky to get through one or two books for fun a year.
It might take having their own children before they realize the pleasure and importance of reading. And I know just the book to buy. Hand, hand, fingers, thumb. One thumb one thumb drumming on a drum …