You Are My Families

January 1, 2014

The other day I had the joy of helping a mother and her three girls, each with a generous gift certificate.  This is a reading family, a book loving family in which each person clearly has their own unique and evolving relationship with books.

The youngest had just begun reading and she sat at our little table with a stack of books. She read a bit from each book softly, the words barely audible under her breath. She was clearly proud of her new ability and intent on finding a book in her comfort zone, not too difficult but challenging enough to hold her interest. The oldest daughter nearly skipped about the store, creating a huge arm filling stack, eyes sparkling brightly. Mom sought advice and gave the girls good input, clearly putting great thought into the unique needs of each child. The middle child was the most discerning: too long a book wouldn’t do, nor would  a too slim volume work. It couldn’t be too boring, too silly; nothing seemed to suit her. Mom and the other sisters were patient and helpful, making suggestions, reminding her of books she’d read and liked. Finally, when accounts were being tallied, she found, entirely unassisted, a wonderful new graphic novel from The Olympians series. This was perfect she’d decided and all of them, including mom, left happily anticipating their new reads.

While admiring this delightful bunch and thinking about the many other “book families” who frequent our store, I was taken back to a conversation I’d had a few years ago. It was late September in 2011 and Borders was closing. My daughter and I drove to the Mount Kisco store to see if there were any great bargains as well as possible booksellers looking for work. We found a few books whose prices were lower than our wholesalers and a couple items that satisfied my daughter’s ‘need right now’ whims.

We stood in a long line when the cashier looked past the faces of a few people ahead of us. “Hey” he smiled, and while he looked a bit familiar, I couldn’t quite place him. Our turn came to pay and he gave my daughter a huge grin. “My goodness you’ve grown!” he remarked. Seeing the puzzlement on my face he said ” White Plains Borders, you used to come there with your whole family. You’d stay for hours.” Suddenly I recognized him as a very nice and helpful bookseller “And your brother, (he turned to my daughter) well, he must be in college by now … right Mom?”

I swallowed hard as my eyes filled, we’d spent so many happy hours there, browsing, reading, sharing. I began to stumble over my words, always fearful of people’s reactions … “We, um, well, the sad story (I ease them in slowly, it’s like landing a plane) well, we , actually, we lost her brother two years ago. He had a seizure in his sleep.” “Oh no,” the kind bookseller looked stricken “I’m so sorry …” “No, no, ” I replied “I’m so grateful for you remembering us.”

And then, the tears on both sides of the counter breaking down social boundaries, he shared his memory of us as “his family.” “In the store we each had favorite customers and families and you guys were like “my” family. I always loved when you came by, which was a lot, and your kids were so nice, and they loved books, and you were all so happy and always having a good time. And he used to wear them funny pants,” (he looked suddenly apologetic but I laughed, remembering our boy’s penchant for “easy on” clothes) ” … and he’d get excited and kinda jump around,” (yes he did, my joyful kid). And the tears streamed and I thanked this sweet man for the gift of his memory.  He remembered. He’d seen us.

And on this sad and happy transition into a New Year , just to say, to “my families,” I see you.

Happy New Year.

2014

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I am an advocate for book culture. I want to create a world where books are desired and cherished and fill countless shelves in countless homes. I want to overhear people discussing books; I want to read books and then read books about books. I want everyone to experience that great comfort when finding a beautiful book and turning that first page. I want everyone to feel their pulse race when they read an astonishing first line. I want to see movies based on books, watch book trailers, enjoy the physical beauty of books themselves. I am a book nerd and I realize not everyone shares my book-centric fantasy. Still, I think the world would be a better place if we were to work at cultivating more book culture.

Here, in no particular order, are a dozen suggestions for creating book culture in our homes, book culture for our families and book culture in our lives and communities. I hope you’ll post some additional ideas.

1. Make a date with a book. There are so many competing events and forces that can come between ourselves and a good book. Having “no time to read” means only that we’ve “made” or “chosen” no time to read. If we make a book date, plan on meeting up with a desired book in that special comfy chair over a glass of wine or afternoon cup of tea, we can reignite our passion for books. Sometimes it’s a Sunday morning, staying in bed for several chapters with a warm mug of coffee on the nightstand.

2. Keep a book handy. In your purse, the glove compartment of your car, the baby’s diaper bag. You never know when there will be a free moment, a line to wait on, a napping baby and you will be prepared and happy.

3. Talk about books. Next time there’s a lull in a conversation, ask expectantly ‘so are you reading anything wonderful lately?’ If your friends look at you oddly, perhaps it’s time to find some book loving friends.

4. Join a book group, start a book group, recruit a book buddy (book group of two). Create themed book groups for different genres and purposes.

5. Never force a child to read or listen to a story. Same goes for bribes and threats. Encourage, share and model.

6. Read aloud. To a child, a lover, someone ill, yourself. Enjoy both the sounds of the words as well as the way they feel in your mouth as you say them. Especially poetry.

7. Visit libraries, many and often. Talk with the librarians, they are filled with amazing knowledge about books.

8. Keep a library basket in your home filled with the current books you’ve borrowed.

9. Give every newborn a large bookshelf (preferably well stocked). You’ll want board books, classics, award winners and the ones you grew up with or raised your own children with. Include books with the baby’s name (Olivia, Madeline, No David).

10. Give books as gifts. If you don’t know a person’s interests, give a gift card to their local independent book shop. Get the name, number and website of their local shop at Indiebound.org.

11. Support authors. Live and dead ones. Attend book signings of the live ones. Visit and support historic sites – Emily  Dickinson’s home in Amherst … the beautiful Faulkner House in New Orleans.

12. Be an equal opportunity reader, that is, give yourself (and your child) permission to read what suits your fancy, be it serious, light, silly or profound – give it all a try, trust your curiosity and whims.

You can find this lovely book-related art at http://etsy.me/wj1SoE

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