June 7th, 2009



I love reading posts about reading and books and especially young adult and children's books which I have a huge collection of and soft spot for, and this post by new blog find Diamond in the Window made me laugh out loud. I knew EXACTLY what she meant by "one of us" and EXACTLY how she felt by having some of her recommendations rejected by her kids.

Only one of my children is a real reader. Karin reads...usually under pressure, though she does surprise me now and then by picking up something. Usually, however, it's a Young Jedi book or a comic. Martin, on the other hand, is just like me. He reads all the time and when he's deep in a book, you have to say his name more than once to get his attention and repeat his name again to keep it. He has read, re-read and loved several of the books I loved as a child, but if I try to subtly push anything towards him, he invariably ignores it in order to pick up The Big Book of Animal Facts for the millionth time or even The Bart Book (or worse, The Homer Book).

I'm constantly excited to show him books, to recommend them, to suggest great reads, and ALWAYS a bit hurt that he doesn't grab them and devour them with the same excitement. I know he has to find his own tastes and make his own choices about what he wants and likes to read, and even though I'm really just glad he loves reading, sometimes it would be fun to have my tastes and recommendations validated by my kid. Every time he DOES read a book I've praised or recommended I always feel like I've won a major mom prize.

It's funny about book recommendations, though I think it's funnier about music recommendations. I find it very difficult to take music reviews with any degree of seriousness: musical taste is SO subject to opinion. But books! Hmmm...I don't think it's any coincidence that bookish people love to talk about books and recommend them to others, because we are always on the lookout for the next big crush: the author whose writing causes us to fall in love all over again with words and worlds. The hook of the book!

When I was in the States 2 years ago, during one of my several hour-long browses through Barnes & Noble, a clerk in the young adult section, whom I asked about suggestions for Martin (who was 9 at the time), suggested The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan to me. I read the blurb on the back and the excerpt page and thought, "Hmmm...greek gods and modern-day teenage sensibilities...sounds good for a child who LOVES D'Aulaire's Greek Myths and the Warriors cat books. I meant to read it, too, but Martin (after quite a long delay) beat me to it. He liked it so much we had to order the next 3 and he was in a fever of anticipation for the last one (there's one more to come) which came out this past Christmas. I've read them all, too, now and each time I read something Martin has enjoyed I think I have a better handle on what to recommend to him, but the result is invariably the same. He reads what sounds interesting to HIM, and quite often, it's not what I want him to try. It's frustrating since I KNOW he would love the books I think he'd love if he'd only give them a chance. It makes me laugh at myself, too, because of the many many times I've done the same thing: not tried something someone else recommended for whatever reason and later tried it only to kick myself for not trying it sooner!

I tell the kids, every time they turn up their noses at something without trying it, to remember the story of me & sushi: look how many years I missed out on sushi because I absolutely refused to try it: EW RAW FISH NO WAY ARE YOU NUTS? And now: Duh. Commence self-kicking.

You want to save your kids from those sorts of errors, right? You want them to learn from YOUR experience, forgetting that everyone really only learns from their OWN. We rarely learn to appreciate the wisdom of our elders until we're beyond the know-it-all immortality of childhood ourselves.

"When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years." —Samuel Clemens

What new books are you reading that you'd recommend right now? I just finished The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt. It was lovely and lyrical and appalling and twisted and crammed. I've just started The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows, which I'm already being drawn into after only a few short pages. Before that I plowed through Ursula Le Guin's trilogy, Gifts, Voices and Powers, which reconfirmed her masterful storytelling and style. Before that, the last really good young adult books I read were Lee Raven: Boy Thief by Zizou Corder and Flora Segunda by Ysabeau S. Wilce, both of which I have praised to Martin and neither of which he has picked up...yet.