When it comes to parenting, my husband and I have screwed up our fair share of times.
Except for the part where the author says that she and her husband used to punish their kids by making them read for 30 minutes, this article brought back some fond memories about my childhood reading days.
I was always a pretty good, though not necessarily voracious, reader. My parents made the bi-weekly trip into town to go to the library a trip to anticipate. I still remember stumbling across a series of 'chapter books" about a family of pigs that could talk. I don't really have any other recollections except that on our trip to the library, I knew exactly where the series was shelved in the children's section and once through the main entrance doors, I'd make a beeline to see if the next volume in the series was available.
Every year at Hannukah, one night''s present was guaranteed to be the most recent World Book Almanac. I'd devour that book, not in sequential order but by favorite sections first followed by articles with illustrations that caught my eye, then by topics that at quick glance had "something that caused me to pause" as I thumbed through the thick volume trolling for something that might be interesting.
I wasn't particularly fond of Hannukah. Waiting a whole 24 hours between gifts, too often only to find that my parents were passing off a few pair of news socks or a 3-pack of underwear as a gift that counted wasn't my idea of adequate gift giving ettiquete. But I did look forward to the night when given the opportunity to select which gift from those left on top of the old upright piano where our Hannukah gifts taunted us for eight days a year, that I'd hit the jackpot and pick the present that was the new World Book Almanac.
When I was a little older, my parents did something extravagant. And, extravagance was not common in our household. They bought a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica. It was the World Book Almanac on whatever the equivolent to steriods was in those days! Just stuff. I could always count on grabbing any random volume off the shelf and finding interesting articles to read.
But, my parents had a few parenting rules that were not held by several of my best friends' parents. Besides no gum ever, and no soda pop mostly, my access to comic books was extremely limited. And my favorite, Mad Magazine, was banned with scorn. Thankfully my buddy "The Looch" had parents who not only allowed him to read Mad Magazine, Looch even had a subscription! So, of course, like the forbidden fruit, I couldn't wait for Saturdays when I'd walk over a mile to "The Looch's" house to get a chance to read a little of this fascinating publication. The only subscription I had was to Archie comics. To this day I still believe my parents had more to worry about as I perused, well stared, at Betty and Veronica, wondering about the nature of the human anatomy than they ever had to worry about in Mad Magazine.
And then there was Mr. Kay! The guy that made me want to become an English teacher. He let us each design our own "outside reading" project. We had to read books of our own choice in addition to those he assigned for us to read. I don't remember the parameters he set for the number of books we were expected to read, but I remember that he set no parameters on the titles we chose. None. I was stunned. So immediately I asked if I could read some James Bond books. The real ones! The ones written by Ian Fleming. This was in the days before the syndication of the series. It was still in the days when the "real James Bond," Sean Connery played the role in movies, (that by the way my family was too poor to send me to see).
"Really Mr. Kay? We can read anything we want?"
"What about James Bond?" I was pretty used to English teachers who scorned "junk literature."
And, then he did it, and he was so casual about it. "Whattaya say you read 'em all?"
Well to tell you the truth I'd already read four of them, knew I liked them and knew that they were pretty fast reads so I said, "Well, yeah sure. I guess I could do that."
So let's cut to the chase. My vision was, first, I can learn a lot about "getting girlfriends" by reading about the suave James Bond and second, I could have a sort of bragging rights to say, "Oh yeah, I've read every James Bond book written... no big deal."
In reality that sentence always came out, ""Oh yeah, I've read every James Bond book written... that Mr Kay! He's so cool."
What I did not expect was that by the end of the semester, I "owned Ian Fleming." I could tell his style at a glance. I knew his sentence structures, his story telling techniques, the way he wrapped Bond's adventures in danger and the way he'd bring Bond so close to the "maybe he won't make it this time" point and yet still Fleming could come up with a perfectly plausible way for Bond to escape death at the very last second.
And to my surprise, I knew Fleming so well that I also realized that Hollywood interpretations, even with the great Sean Connery, playing the lead, weren't really Ian Fleming's stories, but at best okay adaptations that missed the point sometimes.
Those one-on-one book talks as I finished every 2-3 titles became really interesting and thoughtful discussions, even as Mr. Kay gradually brought Bond's relationship with women into the conversations.
It was absolutely amazing to me that there was so much to think about in books that I realized that for most of my education to that point, reading "school books" never got me interested in the conversations and thinking they could generate because I was too misfocused upon the idea that reading the book was important in order to pass the test.
And as I sat there with Mr. Kay for our last book talk, I realized how much I would miss those talks. Mr. Kay then said as casually as he ever said anything, "Well, you did it Jerome. And, I hope you've enjoyed our talks as much as I have." That really got me! And he went on to say, "So I got you something you might enjoy. It's really nothing, but you might find it interesting." He reached into his drawer to get something and as his hand began to rise from the drawer with whatever it was he wanted to give me, he said, "It's another book by Ian Fleming." And with that he put a copy of "Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang" on the desk in front of me.
Ian Fleming wrote that? I couldn't believe it. I guess I didn't know all there was to know about my favorite author afterall.
And as a 17 year old student, I went home that afternoon and read that children's book from cover to cover and enjoyed the heck out of it.