Tuesday, August 29, 2006


I visited my mother this month, and she humored me by letting me wander for hours in a Barnes and Noble bookstore. She also wandered around, checking out various sections of the store.

Mom will read a book from time to time, but she's not obsessive like me. When I was in grade school, I listened uncomprehendingly as she told me that when she was in grade school herself, she got really mad when she got a book in a Christmas present exchange at school. She pronounced the word book the way I had pronounced underpants at a recent and unhappy Christmas present exchange of my own. I got the impression that she was still bristling about it even 25 years later: "That damned old REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM!"

Since Mom's not a big reader, I can remember with great clarity a lot of things she has read. When I was in middle school, she went through a phase of buying and reading nurse romance novels written by a woman named Arlene Hale, at least one a month. I read them because she read them. When I was in college, she (and I) read a novelization of the TV show Dallas, which was really good -- it had a lot of backstory about the Ewing family, like how Miss Ellie first met Jock. Mom also likes any book about the Kennedys. She read a biography of Bo Jackson once. (For some reason, I skipped that one.) She prefers nonfiction to fiction. For her, a book is a success if she feels as if she's "living every word of it."

Mom has a younger sister, KJ, who is a voracious reader. That's probably who I get my bookworminess from. I remember being very young -- maybe early grade school-- and absolutely dazzled by her huge collection of Perry Mason mysteries. I was frustrated that I couldn't read well enough yet; I really liked Perry Mason on TV.

Although our tastes in reading differ (she hated CHARLOTTE'S WEB and I loved it) with occasional overlap, (we both like reading about the Kennedys) I like to try and figure out what might appeal to KJ. I brought some books from Korea for her -- I suppose at some point, I'll find out if they're hits or misses.

Overall, KJ just has great bookworm attitude -- actually it's even better than mine. In her house, she has a little table near the toilet that has books and magazines within easy reach. Like any bookworm worth her salt, she's not going to let a reading opportunity pass her by. I don't know for sure, but I'd be willing to bet that she probably has (or has had, at some point in her life) one of those little bathtub trays to prop a book on while bathing. Because of this, when I want to conjure up an image of the perfect bathroom, KJ's bathroom is the one I see.

If Mom were a bookworm, she would be KJ. Their tastes are eerily identical. This extends to more than just books. For example, if Mom buys a recliner, you could walk into KJ's house within the next few months and see an identical recliner, also recently purchased. They never consult each other about what they're thinking about buying; they're just on the same wavelength continuously. Weird. There have been many times when one of them has had to make a breathless last-minute trip to return something so that my grandmother wouldn't receive two of the same item.

Anyway, Mom and I were circling the "New Releases" table at Barnes and Noble. She suddenly said, "This looks like the kind of book where I could live every word of it."

When she said that, my head snapped up. I always feel absurdly happy when she shows interest in books. Even if I think the book is a piece of crap and a waste of paper, I'm still happy.

The book she was looking at was COMING OUT by Danielle Steel. It has a picture on the front cover of the backs of two women, presumably debutantes, in beautiful long formals, talking to a man in a tuxedo. It's a really delectable cover. I have to admit that even though I'm emphatically NOT a Danielle Steel fan, I could be seduced into reading this book.

Mom had that look -- like she was thinking of buying the book. Seeing her look like I feel 90% of the time was a rare pleasure.

"[KJ]'s got this book," I told her.

"She does? How do you know?" my mother asked. After all, this was a brand-new book, and I hadn't seen KJ for about two years.

Duh! I thought. Because YOU like it!

"I just know. Trust me, she's got it. It's on her bookshelf."

A few days later, we visited KJ. I was right about her having the book, but wrong about the location -- it was actually on her kitchen countertop.

I could scarcely restrain myself from sounding like a gleeful 3rd grader: "You see? You see? I TOLD you she'd have it!" I can't remember the last time I felt that extreme level of smarty-pants and pleased with myself.

Even better, KJ had just finished the book and had liked it. (Of course.) She told Mom to take it home with her.

Still feeling buoyed up at Mom showing an interest in reading, I decided to buy one for her that I'd read and enjoyed earlier this year: THE GLASS CASTLE by Jeannette Walls. I don't see how I can go wrong with this pick. It's nonfiction, the chapters are really short, and Walls' mother and father are shocking. If Mom decides to crack the cover, I think she'll live every word of it.


Les said...

Great post! I was wondering when you'd have a new blog entry. Hope you had a good trip.

Anonymous said...

I get that thrill of excitement when someone who's not generally a reader gets interested in a book, too. I still have a hard time understanding how anyone can *not* like reading, hah.

nessie said...

My sister was a book worm when we were younger but I think her education in science strayed her from the path. I also have an aunt who loved to read trashy romance novels and I read 150 of them in a summer. It was crazy and I was way too young but it taught me how to speed read.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to stop and say hi. Arlene Hale was my aunt. I was doing a google search on her and found your blog. She would have been happy to know that her books started someone on a lifetime love of reading. Arlene never had any children herself, so as one of 6 nieces and nephews, she doted on us. She passed away nearly twenty years ago, but she is still fondly remembered.

Take care!