19 October 2008

Sunday Salon: More thoughts on Ex Libris

The book Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
has been the topic of several of my posts lately. Who knew that a slim volume of essays would give me so much to talk about?

After finishing the book, I came away with the sense that I am failing my children in the literary department. It didn't occur to me until this week that I have not raised my kids in a book-loving household. I was an avid reader as a kid and in the back of my mind I still think of myself that way, even though these days I read more blogs than books. However, I didn't grow up in a house that had a lot of books. My mother and her husband weren't readers. On their bookshelves were a few volumes of Reader's Digest abridged books, a Reader's Digest handyman book, a huge encyclopedic dictionary of the sort that is seen sitting on a stand in a library, and a tattered Betty Crocker cookbook that came in a 3-ring binder. I read that cookbook so many times as a kid that I've actually been searching for a copy of it to buy for my own kitchen.

My kids are growing up in the same kind of house. If you looked at the few small bookshelves in my house, you would see volumes on home improvement, gardening, needlework, and cooking. I guess I thought I was doing a good job because I also have a bookshelf that contains a few classics and kid-friendly books. However, in our efforts to minimize household clutter, we've gotten rid of books and stopped going to library sales. Now I'm wondering if surrounding the kids with books would have made them enjoy reading more.

I've always been more of a book borrower rather than a buyer. As a result, I don't have that intimate relationship with books that Fadiman describes in her essays. I've never had the urge to write in the margins of a book and I've never fantasized about the person who held the book before me. I have, however, experienced the hunger to read something, ANYTHING. Even though the bulk of my childhood reading came from the library, the trips to pick out new books were infrequent. I found myself reading the lawn mower manual just to stave off boredom.

The jury is still out on whether I passed that hunger on to my kids. C2 is a slow reader so it would have to be a special book for her to put herself through that arduous process. My other three kids have voluntarily increased their reading time lately, although my son DJ would still pick TV or the computer over a book. M reads mostly fantasy and manga, but I handed her a chick lit novel this week and I think I may have created a monster. C1 has been going through a book a week since the start of the school year, but that may just be because she is competing for one of 12 spots on the school's Battle of the Books team. I can't imagine any of them being hungry enough for words to pull The Practical Gardening Encyclopedia off my shelf, though.

1 comment:

Table Talk said...

There were very few books in our house I was growing up simply because we couldn't afford them. However, what i was surrounded by was readers. We went to the library every week and I can't remember a time when my Mom didn't read to me. I think that many children do become readers by example, but you can do that without books in the house if that's the way you want to do it.