It’s starting to feel like that time of year… when classes are over and summer begins. When I was growing up, on the last day of school, before we left to summer in a little cabin on Lake Champlain, my parents would take me to a small, independent bookstore in Basking Ridge. It was there that I was permitted to pick out the number of books equal to my age plus one. As a ten year old, I filled a tote bag with eleven books of my own choosing. It was marvelous! There was no parental intervention, no pressure, no requirements; it truly was self-selected reading. So every summer started off with a big pile of wonderfully delicious books. It was money well spent by my parents.
This tradition left its watermark on my brain. My husband and I continued this routine with both of our daughters. Each daughter would roam through the book stacks in search of something interesting. I learned to keep my mouth shut and offer no suggestions. It was difficult. Once Molly picked out a book simply because she liked the cover. I was mortified until I learned that many customers do the same, and the book she selected by its cover ended up to be one of her all time favorites. It’s still on her bookshelf ten years later.
Once Kate chose an assortment of graphic novels; I was astounded… comic books????? She pushed me to read one before I passed judgment. That’s how I got hooked and ended up creating a college course on the canons of graphic novels. Maus, Persepolis, A Contract With God, Watchmen, City of Glass, Caricature Nine Stories became my new favorites—and those of many of my students as well. The combination of art and text allows the writer/artist to express imagination in an extra dimension: a step beyond tradition and conventions.
As our girls get older (now 20 and 27) I still make the offer to go to the bookstore with them… or have them scout out what they like on line. Yes, the 20 year old is entitled to 21 books and the 27 year old has rights to 28 books. They seldom take me up on my offer right away…but often times, a week or two later, we find ourselves in a bookstore together, and the tradition continues, although somewhat morphed and abbreviated.
I find that I, too, collect a pile of books for summer reading. Unwittingly, my lack of moderation accounts for the continued practice of my age plus one. There are at least 60 books stashed high and deep, waiting for me at the Cape. I try to arrange them in some kind of reading order, but that’s a useless adventure. I will read them all, and more… but the order remains uncertain and up to serendipity. I’m just starting Falling Man by Dom DeLillo and, after a HUGE discussion at book group, Hunger Games is on my list. My rule of thumb is that I read up to page thirty, and if it doesn’t make my heart or my brain go pitter/patter, I drop it like a bad boyfriend. That’s the rule. So many good books, so little time.