on Books and Boasting

Eldest (8) now has a library card. So, being a braggart, I obviously flaunt the fact to my work colleagues. Why? Probably to give the giant “HERE BE A DAD” sign that I wear around my neck a bit of a spit and polish. So, there I am, smugly showing off my parenting prowess, when a rather astute workmate asks, “Why not get a Kindle? That way you’ll have all the books you could possibly want.”

I tried to answer wittily but failed to do so. Did I miss a trick here? I mean, it felt right; taking her to the library and nurturing a relationship between her and literature. I think I lamely replied along the lines of, “Because I want her to respect books,” but that rang false.

I personally have an affinity towards books. I love the feel of them,  being surrounded by them, collecting them and treasuring them. My kids have thus developed a sort of reverence for Dad’s bookshelves. Whether it’s because of a sincere respect for literature or Dad’s over-the-top rules regarding the handling of his books, is yet to be established. It’s not like I expect them to wear surgical gloves and face masks every time they want to peruse the volumes, but I am pedantic in the matter. I once turned my back for a second on an eighteen month old, only to turn back to her holding my 1929 thirty year anniversary edition of Braam Stoker’s Dracula, in original binding, agonisingly close to her mouth. I almost underwent cardiac arrest coaxing the precious tome away from her gaping saliva-dripping maw, the entryway to a digestive system capable of processing anything from sawdust to snail shells (for more on that topic, read here). Have a similar such experience yourself and see whether or not you become a tad protective. . .

So the real question is: Am I old-fashioned? Should I keep up with technology and purchase a convenient E-reader?

Well. No, I am not.

If you’re happy with that answer and are willing to take my word for it, you may stop reading here. Otherwise continue.

When Eldest acquired the card you’d never have seen a child more proud. Then we went about trying to find a book that she’d enjoy. This is easier said than done, because the idiom “never judge a book by it’s cover” has never been more valid as when you’ve resolved to help a visually stimulated mind see the deeper meaning behind boring print.  So I taught her about blurbs. Then I had to ascertain her reading ability, her level of comprehension, and the subject matter that would most grip her imagination. This was a hit-and-miss process. Her first two books were far too easy, which I realized when she finished reading them in the car on the way home. The second essay to the institution was no more successful. The next lot of books, although of an appropriate length, were not the ideal level of difficulty. I forget that eight years is not a long time to have developed a broad vocabulary. The result was a grinning little reader that stood before me, proud as could be upon completing her book, but unfortunately when asked what the story was about, the answer provided was “I have no idea.”

Sigh. Unfortunately I’m like that Maths or Science teacher you had at school; the one that knew his/her subject intricately and passionately, but lacked the ability to translate the simpler mechanisms behind the concepts to young minds in a state of learning. In short, I push my girls a little too hard, and on occasion I expect too much from them.

So, the wife was roped in as I was not faring as well as I’d hoped, considering that I was once a boy, and my journey with books only started at the age of ten when  F. W. Dickson’s The Hardy Boys was appropriate literature. Mommy, being a tad more in tune with Eldest’s cognitive development and abilities, had her take out a couple Enid Blyton novels as well as Linda Chapman’s My Secret Unicorn. I followed from her lead and I’m happy to say that Eldest has found her perfect niche, and is careening through books with admirable vim and verve. By the time she finished My Secret Unicorn the bug had bitten in earnest, so much so that the little munchkin went on a addict-esque book hunt about the house for anything and everything she could latch her hungry little mind onto.

So why wouldn’t I get the Kindle? Simple.

Because every second Saturday Dad and his girl go to the library, we spend and hour or more finding the perfect novels, she meets her friends there, and when we’re home there are books on shelves, books on counters, and books in bedrooms. They’re tangible; something that they can see and touch and pick up.

I guess that what I’m trying to say is that it’s not about the books. It’s about the whole experience and the quality time spent between just the two of us, and the fun. As for the awkward and not-so-small space occupied by having the hard copies line my wall, I think I’ll keep that too. Obviously I had to lead by example and begin reading again, which has lead to me rediscovering my love for a good yarn.

More or less in the same vein, I was making breakfast two days ago for Youngest (4), when she idly began to scrutinize the cover of Ken Follet’s The Pillars of the Earth while she waited for her eggy bread (french toast) at the kitchen counter. I thought nothing of it. The cover picture was pretty, she was bored; seemingly innocuous circumstances. Then she asked, “Dad, what is pillars?”

She’s four. I knew that she’d been learning her phonetics and letters at school, and had even hazarded an attempt or two at reading three letter words. Nothing, though, had prepared me for her blurting out a seven-letter word she’d figured out all on her own. I was blind-sided. My surprise unintentionally added an aggressive timbre to my voice when I asked, “How did you do that?” Poor Youngest thought she’d done something wrong and sat there like a deer in headlights. I made amends as was right, but my point is that an experience like that can’t be had with a modern E-reader lying about somewhere as a substitute for books.

Maybe technology isn’t always the answer.