Because somebody somewhere loves me, Rowan yesterday evening pulled Roald Dahl’s* The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More off his bookshelf and began to read it.
I had strategically placed it there at least a couple of years ago, but my older son doesn’t automatically pick up new books. He reads voraciously, continuously (that is, when he is not kicking a soccer ball around the house or the backyard or angling for more iPod time), but he is a re-reader, this one, turning back again and again to the familiar.
It’s an impulse I relate to completely: I was the kid whom, week after week, came from the library with Beverly Cleary’s B is for Betsy and its sequels while my mother would sigh and gently suggest I branch out. Today, rereading seems to me to be the quintessential luxury. To sit down with something you have already read, maybe more than once, in the face of All the Things Still Unread, the blog posts you will never be up to date on, the novels, the Sunday New York Times; to flip the bird in the face of all that and settle down once more with, say, Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees (which I try to reread every few years or so; ditto Toni Morrison’s Beloved), is … [I was trying to come up with a simile here, like “going out for dinner with an old friend,” or “vacationing at your old, familiar, favourite spot,” but these are tired and somewhat trite if somewhat accurate and really it comes down to] love. That’s all. Sometimes, you are in love with a book and you have to read it again. And the fact that you know it well already makes it even better — you can see just what the author was plotting all along, what she was trying to do and how she set you up. You notice different things each time, remember yourself at different stages, read with new eyes and old sensations.
And then, and then, just maybe, you have children, and while the having of the children is an undertaking that is in almost direct conflict with reading more books, one of the magical things about it is the chance, eventually, to reread so many of the books you read and loved as a kid. Which is why my heart thumpity-thumped in a little dance of love last night when I walked into Rowan’s room last night and saw him reading Henry Sugar.
“That’s one of my favourite books from when I was a kid,” I told him.
He looked up over the top of it. “It’s pretty good. I just read about the turtle.”
“The one where the boy rides away on its back?”
“Yeah. Did that really happen?”
“Well, no. It’s fiction – a short story. It’s made up.”
“Is it a chapter book?”
“Not exactly. It’s a book of short stories, although I think at least one of them is true. And each story is kind of like its own chapter. But each one is about something different.”
“So we won’t ever find out if the boy and the turtle come back?”
And something in my chest caught just a bit as I answered: “No, we won’t.”
He sighed, and I knew I was just about to lose him back to the book. “That sucks.”
* * *
[What was your favourite book as a kid? What books have you introduced to the children in your life?]
*Yes, I am aware of Dahl's anti-Semitism. Yes, he was still an excellent writer. Still, I do find it perplexing that someone who was so good at calling out bullshit in his writing would succumb to that kind of BS in his regular life. And yet.