The Joy of Reading (What My Kids read)
Remember the heartbreaking scene in The Catcher in the Rye when Holden drops the record he bought for his little sister and it shatters into a million pieces? Or when Sibyl says she can no longer be with Dorian Gray because their love is interfering with her art? Or the deeply sad ending to Of Mice and Men? Wait, what, you don’t? Just kidding! Neither did I, at least not until recently.
It wasn’t something I thought about until I had kids who’d graduated to reading books that used fancy literary devices like symbolism. Suddenly I found myself fielding questions like “What would you have done with Lennie if you were George?” When I told my then 13-year-old daughter, Abby, that I didn’t remember much about Of Mice and Men, she was incredulous: “How could you forget the last scene? I can’t stop thinking about it!”
Instead of lecturing her on the 7 million things that have since cluttered my aging brain, I decided she was right. That summer, on a cross-country flight, I read Of Mice and Men and found myself weeping over Lennie’s tragic fate. I was consoled only by Abby, who was eager to talk it through. The book was way better than I remembered—truly, how could I have forgotten that ending?—but the real reward was that conversation with my daughter about friendship and loneliness.
Bonding over books isn’t the only reason I read what my kids are reading. I’ve read The Giver, Maus and The Picture of Dorian Gray to fill a few of my many literary voids. My older daughter, Phoebe, read Dorian Gray so many times that I lived in fear of her discovering the truth about her mom: That up in our attic, there’s a portrait of me as an old woman and long-ago English major—who never read anything by Oscar Wilde!
Other times, I’ve read something just to feel a little closer to them. Like the time Phoebe wrote to us from camp saying how glad she was that she had brought along her friend Tintin. That night, out of solidarity, I started reading the Hergé volumes she had left behind. In other cases, I’d pick up titles—Wonder and The Fault in Our Stars—simply because I sensed they were going to define my kids’ era and I wanted to know why.
Is it always a hugely rich and satisfying literary experience? Of course not. No matter how much Phoebe has begged me to read V for Vendetta or Brave New World, I just can’t get into either. But I’m pretty sure both of my kids at least appreciate my effort.
Jenny Rosenstrach is author of, most recently, How to Celebrate Everything and writes about food and family at dinneralovestory.com.