Saturday, January 22, 2011

Each One, Read One

I happened across a quotation while surfing the net this afternoon. It was headlined across the top of the website for Joseph Beth booksellers, a small independent chain in the Midwest which regrettably has gotten smaller over the past several months but continues to do yeoman’s work at their flagship store in Cincinnati. The quotation, from Emilie Buchwald, is: “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” Just so.

The earliest book that I can remember my mother reading to me is Rudy Kazootie, Detective. The title is all that I can recall about the book; googling images for that title brings up an unfamiliar cover, pictures of Rudy Giuliani and Prince, and, uh, some other reproductions of a more mature and scatological nature. It struck a chord in me somewhere, however, opening up some channels in the brain that never closed. I subsequently learned to read on my own at the tender age of four by reading the Harvey run of Dick Tracy comics, purchased from the Tremont Pharmacy in Upper Arlington, Ohio, which always seemed to have a new issue of the book each time I went there. When I reached grade school, my dad, probably alarmed to some extent by my taste in literature, came home with some hardbound books in what were known as the “All About” series, featuring such titles as All About Archaeology by Roy Chapman Andrews, among others. He would sit between my bed and my brothers and read to us for fifteen minutes or so; after the lights went out, the flashlights went on and the reading continued. All About Archeology eventually gave way to Sax Rohmer and Fu Manchu; Dick Tracy never gave way to anything --- I still read those strips, to this day --- but shared space and time with the Hardy Boys, when I discovered that the serial off something called The Tower Treasure on The Mickey Mouse Club was part of a long-running series that had some thirty-odd volumes at that point in time (1960 or so). I read every one I could get my hands on before I happened to take a good look at the paperbacks displayed on the revolving wire racks at the drug stores and made the acquaintance of a gentleman named Shell Scott, whose knowing leer promised a peek into territories which I had yet to chart and am, alas, still exploring.

It is a somewhat tenuous and tortured trail, indeed from Rudy Kazootie on my mother’s lap and to Shell Scott and…well, never mind. But Buchwald’s premise holds true. I read every Golden Book I could get my hands on to my sons, both of whom somehow went from Bert and Ernie to Elmore (Leonard) and Vince (Flynn). And my younger daughter, to whom my wife read for hours each night, has been reading Vonnegut and Bradbury since she was eleven. And the pattern continues. My older son, who never wanted children but who has become the best father I know, reads to his daughter on a nightly basis. Maybe some day, one day, you will read something by her to your children.


  1. Hi Joe,
    Joseph Beth Bookstore in Cincinnati is where I'll have my very first book signing in May. If they ever close I'll feel like Jim and the others with the Mystery Bookstore in L.A.

    JB has the greatest children's section and the wonderful Brontes Bistro. I've spent hours there. I never remember being read to as a child, but I read to my two girls.

    Now I've got this line stuck in my head from those days. "There were ten in the bed and the little one said,"Roll over, roll over!"

  2. Good memories there. My mother read to me the same way (as my spouse and I do for our children). I always had a taste for fantasy; I wonder if the Greek mythology she read to me started that, or if I demanded it? And then the Hardy Boys... I think the librarian got tired of seeing me. I used to read four or five books a day in elementary school.

    This week my 11 year-old read a couple of my own books on the kindle. He came to me asking questions about my characters, begging to know how the story would end, talking about my characters as if they were real people. I can't even describe the feeling. I'm so happy that my children have picked up the love for literature.

    It's also opened my eyes to the Kindle. In terms of bringing literature to kids, I think it's the next "Harry Potter," if you get my meaning.

  3. I can't remember far enough back to know if my parents read to me. They must have. I CAN remember back to when I was of reading age and always read voraciously.

    That's why I'm delighted when my niece asks me to read something to her. And she loves to read as well.

    I loved the Hardy Boys books. I don't know how much the original blue spine books are read by children these days, but I hope they do---for the sense of adventure and the strong sense of family.

  4. I wish I could say I remember my parents reading to me, but alas it isn't there. The TV was our story teller. Captain Kangaroo, Hogans Heroes, Fred Rogers and Star Trek were the story tellers I remember most. I am sure my mother must have read to me at some point because I myself had learned to read by the time I was 5 years old. Dad though, wasn't much of a reader. But I do remember vividly reading to myself at those young ages and the love for it grew quickly. Where the Wild Things Are, Johnny Tremaine, Hardy Boys, Dr. Seuss, Richard Scarry (who wasn't really scary at all), Where the Sidewalk Ends, Louis L'Amour, Don Pendleton, and DC comics. When I was about 10 dad came home from work with a set of Encyclopedias given to him at a school remodeling job. Those became my best friends from then through high school. I read those historical and history filled annals, the set was dated 1959 but we got them in 1978, cover to cover within a few years. My parents were either impressed or frightened by my reading choices and decided to invest in an up to date version in about 1982 or so. I ingested those too.

    Between encyclopedias and novels and comic books I read myself silly. It worked well to spur my short but exciting acting career, and shorter but excitinger comedy career. By the time I had children of my own I was overflowing with the desire to tell them stories. My boys have grown up, unlike myself, hearing stories told into their imaginations without a glass screen and being encouraged to read on their own as well, even to read aloud dramatically. There is little joy in this life more delicious than to see and hear and watch my 13 year old read to his 10 year old brother and to see them both spontaneously begin dramatizing the characters and even more so when their 20 year old brother joins in.

    Sometimes our memories set the traditions for our children. Sometimes we pull new traditions from the sky and spread them like a rainbowed cloud before them, a new cuisine for the feast of their minds.

  5. HI Joe,

    Great post. My family had a tradition of reading James Thurber's The Thirteen Clocks. I love the alliteration and whimsy in the book and read it to my son when he was little.

    My son had the benefit of being the perfect age for the Harry Potter experience and reading the first book gave me one of my fondest memories as a parent. My son didn't want me to read it aloud, so we each read our one copy together side by side in a big hammock in the back yard. We shared the pillow and the page turning and, as the faster reader, I ended up moving from one side of him on the hammock to the other. The camaraderie of sharing that book continued with midnight book parties and constant discussion of Harry's adventures, and as his reading abilities grew we ended up with two copies of each new book.

    Now the fun part of having a college age reader is sharing the adult books with him, books we read in college like Even Cowgirls Get the Blue and anything by Kurt Vonnegut. At his request he got a few as Christmas presents this year.