Friday, February 22, 2013

Just read the book

I have had a lot of favorite books through the decades. In elementary school, Anne of Green Gables and Little Women were at the top of my list. In high school, I was obsessed with Jane Eyre  and A Room With a View. During college, I focussed on Jane Austen's rather large catalog. In grad school, I was all about Edith Wharton. I still maintain that Age of Innocence  is the best American novel ever written. As a grad school dropout, my favorite books were those that didn't require any thought or analysis. I seem to remember a lot of John Grisham.

These days, I don't have a favorite. I'm kind of all over the map with what I read. According to Ella, though, my Kindle is filled with nothing but "books about mass murderers, serial killers and assassinated presidents." I'd protest that she was being unfair, but she does have a point.

Over the years, the books I have always, always come back to, though, are Anne of Green Gables and Little Women. I have read them so many times that my paperback editions disintegrated and are now held together with rubber bands. I swear I could identify my copies by how they smell. I knew passages of each by heart because I had read and reread them.

I wanted to be Anne. I wanted to be brave and stubborn and willing to crack a slate over someone's head. But as my sister once pointed out, I'm much more of a Marilla. I also wanted to be Jo - free spirited and creative and willing to sell her hair to help her family. There were also times I wanted to be Beth. I envied her patience and kindness and beautiful death scene. I never wanted to be the know-it-all Meg or spoiled-rotten Amy, though. Never.

After Ella was born, I started picking up copies of my favorite childhood books as I saw them. In addition to Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, I couldn't wait to introduce her to Little House on the Prairie, The Phantom Tollbooth, James and the Giant Peach, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and Through the Looking Glass, just to name a few.

When Ella learned to read, I counted the days until she'd be ready for chapter books, stacking my favorites in her room.

To my everlasting delight, Ella loves reading as much, if not more than, I do. She always has her nose buried in a book.

So what's the problem?

She won't read the books I want her to. Absolutely refuses.

Each time she complains that she is out of books, I helpfully and hopefully hand her one of my favorites. She just rolls her eyes and wanders off to browse the book closet on her own. She has read all of the Harry Potter books many times over, wanting to be Hermione and hoping that her invitation to Hogwarts would arrive on her 11th birthday. She's read all of CS Lewis, which I couldn't stand, and The Hunger Games trilogy, which I have no interest in.

She's also discovered some cool series like the Mysterious Benedict Society and You Have to Stop This. I've enjoyed reading these books along with her.

But she still won't read my favorites.

She finally read Anne of Green Gables last year as part of a school project. When she told me she had been assigned it, I did a happy dance around the room. I knew, just knew, that once she met Anne, she'd want to read the rest of the books.

Yeah, no.

When Lily started reading chapter books, I figured I had a second chance to introduce my favorites. I moved all of them into Lily's book shelf and offered them to her each time she asked for something to read. She is most decidedly not interested, and refuses all my suggestions as stubbornly as Ella does.

Lily's been home all week sick, and I've been suggesting that she go read instead of beg to watch movies. She came in the other day to tell me she didn't have anything on her Kindle that she hadn't read yet. I did a happy dance and loaded Anne of Green Gables on to it. She sighed and rolled her eyes.

"I don't understand," I said. "This is my favorite book. And it was Aunt Sarah's, too."

"Yes, but that was you and Aunt Sarah," she replied. "I'm Lily, and I like different things."

I hate it when my kids are smarter than I am.

So I have resolved to back off and stop pushing books on the girls. But I still feel like a bit of a failure as a mother, English major, writer and avid reader. Some day, someone is going to look at Ella and Lily with the same shocked look I have, and say, "What do you mean you've NEVER read Anne of Green Gables? How is that possible?"

Campbell is now reading, but I know better than to try my favorites with him. He came home from the library this week proudly clutching some Star Wars book. Elizabeth is my final chance. Her middle name is Anne-with-an-E. Maybe she'll want to read about her namesake.

But probably not.

Here are the books I will never, ever try to get my children to read.
Where the Red Fern Grows (honestly, I think I have PTSD from that damn book)
The Yearling
The Summer of My German Soldier
Rumble Fish
The Outsiders

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Start with E now - by reading them aloud to her BEFORE she can read them herself. The bigs will hear you, and you'll have a better shot they'll get sucked in by the stories. At least, that's how I got my girls (and actually, my older son too) to do the Little House books. Now that they're older they are going back and re-reading on their own.