I was fortunate to have a mother who loved to read. But not to me. It was during answering this week's Author's Answer question that I realized that while I was always surrounded by books as a child, they weren't mine.
I have no memory of books for children. Not of my parents reading them too me or a bookshelf or even few of them floating around in my toy cupboard. Yes, I had a toy cupboard. In the kitchen, no less. Bedrooms where for sleeping and waiting for your father to come home when you were naughty. They weren't for playing in.
In fact, while I remember learning to read, because we did that in school, not in preschool like kids do these days, it was reading the spines of my mother's massive mystery book collection at home that I recall actually reading.
Once they were read, they were 'done'. My mother wasn't a big re-reader. After all, these were mystery books and once she knew who did it, that was that. Even worse, she couldn't even wait to find out who did it, so she would always read that last three or four pages first and then read the book to find out how the detective put the clues together to figure it out. That has never made sense to me. Appreciating all the little nuances you missed the first time is what re-reading a book is for. Sheesh.
A book got read and then put on the shelf. After that, it didn't matter what happened to it, other than the fact that it was still there in case one of her friends might stop by and want to borrow something to read. That left things wide open to my little organizational tendencies. I spent entire afternoons organizing them by author, or by color, or by how old they were. Did you know that a couple hundred books propped open on the floor also makes a really fun hamster trail? They do. Just don't let the hamster start chewing on the books. It makes parents angry.
Occasionally, as I got older, I'd skim a page here and there and so I started reading Watership Down, a raunchy pirate romance, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and The Crystal Cave. You may have noticed, none of those were mysteries. That's probably why they stuck out to me and begged to be skimmed. I have no idea how those anomalies ended up on my mother's bookshelves because our weekly trip to the local bookstore always ended up in the same aisle. Mystery. And we couldn't leave with just one book, no, there would be two or three. While I didn't learn to read from my parents, I did learn that reading a lot was perfectly acceptable.
Thank goodness for school libraries and those scholastic book fairs. Remember when everyone got a free book at the book fair? That was my favorite part of school: Free books. Now those book fairs are all about selling erasers and bookmarks and every variety of pencil you can think of. Yes, kids still buy books. Occasionally. I spent several years working at the book fair during my children's elementary years, and I can tell you, given the choice between spending a five bucks on a book or getting two pencils, a puppy pencil sharpener, an eraser that looks like a cell phone, and a bookmark, they'll go for the handful of crap nearly every time. What do they use that bookmark for? I have no idea. We can hope its for their library books, but it's probably because it had a cute kitten on it.
When I did start reading voraciously in my later elementary years, I first went to mystery, because, surprise, that's what I thought I was supposed to like. I joined my mother on the weekly trip to the bookstore, and came home with two or three books of my own. Ask for a new pair of jeans from the store (as opposed to the 'denim' ones my mom made for me) and there was no way in hell I was getting a yes, but ask for a couple books, and there's no argument. Priorities.
Mystery quickly gave way to horror, fantasy and sci-fi, and I've been there ever since. Would I let my kids read the stuff I was reading in middle school? That would be a huge no. I don't recall my mother ever questioning my reading choices or even paying attention to what pages I was stuck between. We didn't talk about what we were reading. We just read. Separately. Preferably in different rooms where we didn't distract one another. Books were for getting lost in.
I do attempt to be a slightly more attentive parent when it comes to what my kids are entertaining themselves with. We sometimes even curl up on the couch and read our books silently together in the same room. Do I succeed in protecting them from reading things that are socially unacceptable for their age? Probably not, but I do at least make an effort and we do talk about what they're reading. They have bookshelves filled with books of their own, and I read to them every night until they were old enough to read for themselves. All in all, I'm going to call it a victory.