Thursday, November 26, 2009

Life on the inside

As the weather turns cold and windy our family has been hit by a bug, the reading bug. A few weeks ago I picked up "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" on Beth's recommendation. The English teacher in me was intrigued by the novel's conceit whereby the story of Hamlet serves as the scaffolding on which to hang a contemporary tale set in rural Wisconsin. An extended meditation on the bonds joining man and dog, it isn't a great novel but it has its moments. On a friend's recommendation, I also read Phillippe Claudel's slender novel "Along a Slow River" which is the English translation of "Les Ames Grises". Set in a small French town during World War I, this lovely and harrowingly sad book alternately left me torn by a desire to absorb his prose and a fear of learning what might come next.

More or less parallel to my readings Beth tackled "The Wondrous Brief Life of Oscar Wao." She reports that it's both saucy and poignant, especially concerning recent history of the Dominican Republic. Beth also recently read "The Book Thief" which she then passed along to me. Marvelous book. She then reread "Tale of Two Cities" which she then passed along me. She's now plowing through the quartet of vampire novels by Stephanie Meyer. I don't think I'm going that far, though I did read the first book, "Twilight" a couple of years ago.

Meanwhile, I tried another James Salter novel, "A Sport and a Past Time" which is set entirely in France. I liked it. It belongs firmly within the genre of erotica, just in case you're considering picking it up. Another novel of his "Light Years" is one of my favorites. He's definitely a pre- Generation X and Y author, and a writer's writer.

The reading bug has hit our kids as well. Tess polished off "Into the Wild" from the Warrior series. It was her first full length chapter book, and for a period of time it furnished her with a late night reading jag. She is decidedly not lacking for literary and artistic diversions. Drawing, crafts, reading, practicing the fiddle, composing little stories and storyboards, her interior life is brimful of all manner of things.

With respect to reading, her influence on Colm has been palpable. Since beginning first grade Colm has clearly resolved to become a reader. At the beginning of this school year, he seemed at times to be uncomfortable with his own inability to decode words on the page. Thankfully, that never translated into a resistance to books in general and certainly not to the experience of being read to. Then, little by little, he ventured further, essaying to read this or that book. He was more and more receptive to proddings from me to puzzle out words, less inclined to get frustrated. Pretty soon he was bringing books to us because he wanted to read them aloud to us, not vice versa. His development has been fun to watch.

Always, Tess is nearby observing, mostly patient, giving him his turn at things, sometimes unable to resist feeding him the answers when he pauses. She seems to enjoy observing her brother's progress, as if it casts a spotlights on her own achievements. Occasionally she'll observe matter of factly what a word means and then she'll say something like, "Colm, when I was in first grade I was reading chapter books." Her own constructed sense of self is clearly a conflation of the past with the present, accurate in it's essential themes if not in its chronologoly.

Colm, for his part, doesn't allow such statements to diminish his own enjoyment and satisfaction with what he's doing. Tess' accomplishments are for him a given and, as such, they represent and foreshadow the next big things in his own life. These two children are fundamentally for each other. It's not that they don't need us; it's just that they nourish one another in so many so habitually, so spontaneously, in so many conscious and intentional ways while Beth and I are sometimes more like the air they breathe... essential yet atmospheric.

One of my great joys is to observe them from a slight remove, to see them in tableau and in costume, to overhear their piping voices, to feel their creaturely movements in the house, and then discern the signals of their approach. Those ephemeral event horizons, from which they penetrate our peace, enter into earshot, skip into sight, smiling, bawling, hungry for something, those moments are when we are recalled, and we receive our summons into parenthood, needed once again.


Blogger Erin said...

I ♥ reading, too! I just finished "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell and I'm thinking of rereading an old Nancy Drew that I have from when I was a kid. Also, I ♥ Tess' polka dot and stripes shirt! Miss you guys!!! ♥Erin

6:52 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

Beautiful post, beautiful life, my beautiful friend family.

10:51 PM  

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