My daughter always stays up too late reading and I let her. Right now she is reading Deep Dark and Dangerous, by Mary Downing Hahn and she recently finished The Mysterious Bendict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart, which is a much longer book than I would have ever been able to finish when I was in fifth grade. I used to read to her all the time, even when I was pregnant. I read her books like Stellaluna and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, but now she chooses her own books (with a little guidance from mom and her teachers). She loves books rich with mystery and it is so enjoyable now that we can discuss what she’s reading. Last night, when she moaned at having to put down her book at bedtime, I couldn’t help but remember a similar relationship with books that I shared with my grandmother. I wrote about it in a guest post a couple of years ago for 5 Minutes for Books:
Reading began very early in our family, and that we were less than wealthy or that our community didn’t have a public library didn’t prevent our parents from finding books for us to read. Books out of the powdered laundry detergent were a bonus (does anyone remember those?), but we also got books at garage sales, handed down by older cousins and from our grandma who had saved many of my dad’s childhood books for us to borrow. I used to love reading Blueberries for Sal, Huckleberry Finn, and Black Beauty.
When I was old enough to check out books from our school library I discovered more stories at my fingertips, but they seemed very limited compared to the books at grandma’s house. When Grandma started to let me choose one book per month from the state books-by-mail library program she participated in, I could hardly believe my luck. One of my first selections was Island of the Blue Dolphins. I remember telling my grandma all about it and how she hung on every word. She did the same with The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton when I told her it had made me cry. She may not have been the intellectual type, but my grandmother was a reader and loved to talk about stories. She didn’t know what a book club was back then, but somehow she managed to start one with me.
Later, when I had permission to read Gone With the Wind (my first grown-up book) my grandma and I had a great time talking about it. Grandma thought Scarlett O-Hara was huffy and pointed out to me that she wasn’t very good at being a lady. The things Scarlett did made my grandma laugh, then cluck her tongue and shake her head. But she felt sorry for her too. In the end, we both couldn’t help liking Scarlett.
Grandma wanted me to read wholesome books because of my age, but not boring. She liked Francine Rivers and when we read her The Mark of the Lion series, we were both captivated. We talked and talked about those books and in doing so, we talked about other things and Grandma managed to work in more than a few lessons about life and faith.
The last book we ever read and talked about together was Scarlett. From what I remember, since Grandma knew how much I loved Gone With the Wind, when she heard about Scarlett she had to get it for me. This was no small feat considering she was actually quite poor. My name is still written in her wavering hand writing in the front of the book. We loved talking about Scarlett and even though I lived far away at the time (England), we managed to pass it between each other, then on to my sister-in-law, even to an uncle, and eventually back to me.
I guess it’s no wonder that I ended up writing a book about a grandmother and a granddaughter who are very close. The memories that bind the hearts of my characters, Kitty and Lucy, are different from those I have with my grandmother, but the meaning is the same. Reading bound our hearts together, but it also gave my grandmother the opportunity to teach me about life without my even knowing it was happening. I wish she could read Ruby Among Us. I wonder what she would think about how she inspired my life as a mother, reader, and writer. I won’t ever know, but I hope I can pass some of that inspiration on to my daughter.
(Also posted at skirt.com)