Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Book Talk

So Riley loves this book series, The Ranger's Apprentice. It's well written, exciting and perfect for Riley. He's been devouring each book as it has come out.

Maybe I should explain that I have a lifelong habit of buying books that I like. It may be a bad habit, it depends on your perspective; some people disgustedly ask me why we don't use the local library more. I guess the fact is that I love having lots of books, I love being able to go back to them, I like re-reading them, many of them become old friends. I find a house full of books homey and comforting. It's like being surrounded by very intelligent friends with tons of cool ideas.
I have always encouraged my guys to like books too, to read a lot and they have a ton of their own books (to the point where their bedroom is overflowing with them). I have in the past frequently bought them books I thought they'd like, and even if they don't turn out to be interested right then, they usually rediscover them later and read them then.
It's been a common enough thing that if I were to say to one of them, "I got you something today", they'd ask, "is it a book?" first, (with varying degrees of enthusiasm). So they're very used to having their own books. They are probably too used to having lots of books, to the point where they don't realize that having lots of their own books is really a privilege. Riley at least is in the habit of hauling whatever book he's reading back and forth to school with him, we frequently read together at bedtime, books are always available.

In the past 6 months Fremont has lost all of its bookstores except Half Price Books, and there are no other bookstores within an easy reasonable distance, so buying books as a casual habit is being cut short. (This is probably a good thing in terms of saving money, at least.) So when I was out in Half Moon Bay a week or so ago and had a bit of time to spend I went book browsing in some of the bookstores there on Main Street. It's lucky that the independent bookstores there are still surviving, at least for now, though I was told business is difficult. I found the 10th book of Ranger's Apprentice and I had to get it for Riley. I gave it to him later and he was very happy, since he'd been waiting for this one. And he'd been carrying it to school while he's been reading it.

So the other day we were taking Casey to gymnastics and he gasped from the back seat "Riley, what have you done to your book?!!" It came out that Riley had written words in ink on the bottom (the cut edges of the pages) of his new Ranger's Apprentice book,  some obscenities. I couldn't believe it. After we dropped Casey off, I parked, took the book and looked at it and proceeded to completely lose my cool. "Why would you do something like this? What were you thinking??" And he had no good answer. There was no good answer for me, of course. He mumbled something rather incoherent (and this kid is very rarely incoherent) about wanting to mark it as his, nobody else's. When asked why he wouldn't just write his name in the book rather than writing stupid obscenities that any yob could have written, he admitted that he simply hadn't been thinking, he was irritated and bored at school and just did it without thinking. I shouted at him. I yelled mean things. I grounded him. I did not handle it well at all.

Next day, after needing considerable time to cool off as well as time to talk with Paul, find out what had been happening at school that might have affected him and time to think about it all, I sat him down after school and pulled out the abused Ranger's Apprentice book and a big black marker. I also had this book handy:
This book is The Anatomy and Construction Of the Human Figure, by Charles Earl Bradbury. (There's a new reprint of this book out from Dover Books now). It's a fantastic book for anyone wanting to learn how to draw humans. It's a great book. This particular book is one of my most prized books ever. So I sat him down and showed him this book, with its beaten up pink cloth cover, no spine, and the names on the frontispiece:
This book belonged to my dad, bought in Missouri when he was in art school in 1949. He gave this book to me in 1989, when I was in art school. He loved this book and he held onto it through all of his troubled life until he gifted it to me. I explained all of this to Riley as he looked through it with wide eyes. I asked him how old that made the book and without any hesitation he said, "Well, 62 years, but maybe older because who knows how long it was on the shelf for?" 62 years is forever to a 10 year old. I talked to him about how I loved books, they were like friends to me, and how when he'd scribbled bad words on his book, it was like a slap in the face to me, since I'd gotten him that book specially, I knew he wanted to have it and read it so much.

I picked up his Ranger's Apprentice book and said, "This is a really nice hardbound book, and I know you like these books. It could last at least as long as my dad's book. You might not have this in 62 years, but someone else might have found it and want to read it as much as you did. Do you want them to have this book with these words scribbled on it in 62 years?" He looked at me quickly and his eyes were big and full of tears (though he'd hate for anyone to know that). I showed him the flat side of the big black marker and showed him how to black out the words on the edge. He was really very nice the rest of the day. But he's still grounded.
Luckily he's got plenty of books to read while he's grounded, and a silly cat to keep him company.


  1. Sounds like you had a good talk and came up with a great solution.

    I love to write in my books and take notes.

    There's a book in the Huntington that I love in part for it's marginalia. You can tell what the early owner(s) of the book were thinking about. It's a law book, and there are pointy fingers towards inheritance and land lease issues. It's soooo cool!

  2. I love how you dealt with that. You are a very, VERY classy mother.

  3. Libraries are absolutely fantastic, certainly; no one can own every book, and especially when you can't afford to buy? Sure, you should take advantage of them. But I can't wrap my head around the thought that buying books is somehow /wrong/. Mind, I certainly know my perspective here is biased: my grandmother taught English and History, two of my aunts teach as well -- hell, I wanted to teach English myself for a while. When we moved from Arkansas to California when I was a kid, and my parents did all the packing because we were already out visiting my dad for the summer, the thing I still remember most were the books that didn't make it into the boxes somehow.

    I suppose I've just always been somewhat conscious of the thought that if you love something, you have to support it. Sure, it's also a lovely excuse for the fact that I'm somewhat of a completist as well, but if I love an artist and I can afford it? I'll buy every album of theirs I can find. Same for authors, because as great as it is for the libraries to stock those books? They don't get to write new ones if there aren't other people out there /buying/ them as well. Really, I'm only more aware of that fact now that I actually know published authors. Sure, if you have books you know (or think) you're never going to reread? Donate them, or even just sell them at the used book store so that someone else who doesn't have as much money to spend will get a chance to read the book as well. Or just be a little library of your own, and lend them out to people yourself.

    As for what happened with Riley -- I can totally understand the way you reacted, and even understand still being a kid and not really knowing quite /why/ you do certain things, because you're still trying to figure it out yourself. The way you ended up handling it, though? Pure genius.

  4. Your boys have a wonderful mother! :)

  5. Aw, thanks, guys. I sure don't feel like a good mom most of the time- this parenting stuff is so seat of the pants all the time!

  6. Marginalia is a totally different type of thing than scrawling obscenities on the edges of the pages. That's defacing a book and I'd've been just as upset as Beck was. I too think that the follow-up was brilliant, and I hope the lesson sticks.