Thursday, April 19, 2007

The weight of the word

We made a trip to the public library today, one of our favorite things to do. There is nothing like being in the peaceful hush, an atmosphere that seems pregnant with possibility. What kind of books do we want this time? Mystery stories? Fantasy? Chick lit? One or two or three or four of each?

An extremely uninspiring view of our city's public
library. A pox on the architect that designed this
bland, blank monstrosity.

My mom taught me to read when I was four, more an act of self-defense than of an altruistic desire to pass on knowledge of the written word. She would be in her favorite corner of the couch, feet tucked up under her, usually with a bowl of popcorn and some iced tea. She wanted to read her book, usually Agatha Christie. But then there I'd be, coming along with a stack of books clutched to my chest, asking that question again.

"Will you read to me?"

My mother was a good mother, and if she ever told me to hush up and go away, I don't remember it. Even though she did skip pages, as if she thought I wouldn't notice. I also don't remember her teaching me to read, but I know she did because that's when she bought me the first of many satchels so that we could go to the public library together, competing mildly with one another to see who could stuff in the most books. We would stagger out the heavy double doors, hoping the handles wouldn't rip off our bags, and down the steps, eager to get home and make the popcorn and sit down, each of us on our own couch end, and read.

So today, Aisling and Meelyn and I went to the library. I taught both of them to read, and I also have helped them develop the upper body strength necessary to get our vast loads of books out of the doors of our city's public library (which are automatic sliders) and into the car. We were there for just over an hour and brought home 50+ books, a pretty puny haul when compared to what we can do in the summer, when all we have to do is go to the pool and lounge.

I checked out a bunch of books on Ancient Greece, since I am doing some research on that culture for next school year's history bingo, plus an unwieldy load of sugary sweet chick lit. I find writers like Marian Keyes, Jane Green and Emily Giffin very, very soothing -- nice stories with decent character development and plots with a few twists and turns and happy endings. I can't bear unhappy endings, feeling that life is hard enough as it is, what with having to buy a new washing machine and some dumb hose going out on the van directly afterwards, not to mention other horrors such as an arsonist burning down our old parish church and college kids being massacred by a madman on the Virginia Tech campus. I can breeze through several chick lit novels in a week, both the American and British varities, filling in the chinks with some more solid non-fiction. My non-fiction choices right now are What Catholics Really Believe by Karl Keating and Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt.

The girls each chose books according to her own tastes, something that I always find fascinating, a little window into their private worlds. Who are these children, really, the ones with faces more familiar to me than my own? I love seeing what they pick out, what their choices in literature say about them.

At fourteen, Meelyn likes an occasional romance book, but not very often. I only let her read Christian romance novels by Grace Livingston Hill, whose books were published from early-to-mid twentieth century. GLH's style is a bit florid and quickly becomes cloying. But at Meelyn's age, she needs books where the girl always ends up with the wonderful young man who treats her well. She needs to know what to look out for, my lovely, dreamy-looking girl with the wide blue eyes and the killer volleyball serve. Mostly, though, Meelyn likes science fiction and fantasy and is busying herself with the books of Madeleine L'Engle. One of her favorite more contemporary writers is Cornelia Funke, author of the delicious ''Ink'' novels, Inkheart and Inkspell. Meelyn is anxiously awaiting the publication of the third book in the series, Inkdeath, so that she can find out what happens to Meggie, a kindred spirit.

Aisling has no truck with "stuff that isn't real" and picks up two novels about girls around her age, which is eleven. She went through a period of time when she refused to read any book that wasn't by Beverly Cleary, which concerned me somewhat. I had to explain to her that all good things must come to an end, including Mrs. Cleary's novels, and, not to put too fine a point on it, Mrs. Cleary herself. Aisling also got an armload of books from the American Girl Library's non-fiction selections, bright and cheerful books about how girls can manage their money and keep their skin clear and negotiate the treacherous paths of adolescence while making little ham sandwiches in the shape of daisies, with a hard-cooked egg laid on for a face.

We filled up four of the library's blue tote baskets and made our way to the elevators, groaning and accidentally barking one another's shins with the corners of our baskets. It took the woman at the library desk about ten minutes to check everything out, even with us obligingly bagging up our books. Then to the van, our arms stretching out like the arms of gorillas, our fingers pleading for mercy as the plastic bag handles dug into our skin.

And then home, where we piled our spoils on the dining room table with several resounding thumps, each of us poring over our bags, trying to decide what we wanted to read first, a succulent decision, like deciding between roast beef or roast pork, between mashed potatoes or sweet potato pie.

Meelyn chose her book and then disappeared through the swinging door into the kitchen, re-emerging to say, "I thought I'd pop a little bit of popcorn. Do you guys want any?"

"Yes!" we said, and within minutes, we were sitting with our glasses of tea and our little bowls of popcorn, all in our familiar line on the couch, munching, the only other sound being the tiny, intimate whisper of pages turning as we each started a new book.

I have taught them well.

1 comment:

Lilly said...

My Aunt Mary, your grandmother, infested me with the reading bug. She entered a book club for me when I was about 8 years old, and every month I looked forward to my new selection. She picked out wonderful books I'd never have chosen at the library.

David Sedaris is one of my current favorites -- I look for him in The New Yorker when he doesn't have a new book of memoirs out.

For pure romance, try Nicholas Sparks.

If you want to delve into recent events, try "Conspiracy of Fools" about the Enron debacle.

And if you really want to enhance your insomnia and possibly never again get a good night's sleep, I recommend "The Night Stalker" about Ramirez the serial killer.

Oh -- "Cell" by Stephen King is pretty good, too.