Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Selfish Benefits of Book Parenting

As you can imagine, my life is defined heavily by my identification as a geek and my role as a father. My children are tied directly to my reading life in so many ways. It’s not just that I might have at one point read Knuffle Bunny and Going on a Bear Hunt several times a day for a few months straight, but I also get to mold and influence their growth into readers, and yes, even influence what they read.

I remember taking my book-loving daughter to the library for the first time when she was about 2 years-old. We walked into the main room and her eyes just got huge and she stood there in awe for a while. She couldn’t comprehend that there existed in her little world a building this large completely full of books. It wasn’t long before she was discovering some new ones and insisted on taking them home. Nurturing a love for books is something I see as my responsibility as a parent and it’s going well so far. My children have no idea how long my secret to-read list of books that I know are excellent that I want them to experience someday, when they are ready. I have already had the chance to introduce Harry Potter and The Hobbit, which are much loved now. My oldest even thinks Encyclopedia Brown and The Great Brain were entirely her choices, having no idea how premeditated their placement was to achieve maximum interest.

I’m sure most parents like to introduce their favorite books to their children, but what took me longer to realize, is that I don’t just influence them, they influence me right back. Sometimes we choose books to read together, or start a series together, or I will read ahead so I can discuss the books with them when they catch up (because they can read the newest release when I’m done with it). In this way I have discovered many great YA titles I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed. Would I have read the adventures of Percy Jackson without my kids? Well, probably, but I can guarantee you that I wouldn’t have read Gregor the Overlander, or The 39 Clues on my own. This is perfectly fine. I still get to read my “adult literature” and I can delve into the fun, popular stories my kids are enjoying too. If this has taught me anything, its that good books are simply good books.

The second change in my reading life comes in the form of re-reading all these great books from my past. I am much more likely to revisit books with my kids than I am on my own. For me that has been wonderful as I personally enjoy re-reading books, despite the perils of potentially diminishing a favorite book or character. I used to scare myself with questions like, “What if the book actually isn’t any good if you aren’t still a kid?” or “What if it’s only a good book through a nostalgic lense?” and “What if the plot is actually really bad and the writing cliche?” I’ll tell you, my fears have yet to be validated. I’m not saying it won’t ever happen, but it hasn't yet. Maybe it’s luck and we just pick excellent books. But I doubt it. No, the stories hold up because we get to experience them again for the first time.

Your experience with a book will change as you change and grow and learn and experience life and hardship and joy, but, with my children reading with me, it’s a happy experience even if the characters and plot aren’t as good as I remember. Their innocence of the story and enthusiasm for the characters and joy in the experience temper any critical negativity of adulthood that seeps in over time and allow me to experience the books as they do, at least by vicariously. And that has been perfectly fine. As Tolkien reminded us, we are only little fellows in a wide world afterall.

I’ll leave you with this thought from Frank Herbert's Dune that has more relevence for me now than it ever did before

“The mystery of life isn't a problem to solve, but a reality to experience.”

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