Welcome to the Readers’ Club
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a love affair with books. My earliest memories are of my mom reading Tolkien to me and my sisters at bedtime, and some of my fondest memories were of the Scholastic Book Fairs every fall and spring; we would pore over the catalogues the weekend before, knowing our budget and picking out the most number of books for the best prices. It didn’t take long before my sisters and I learned that we could get more if we pooled our resources.
I always wanted to be like my older sister, and one of the easiest forms of mimicry was picking up her books as she finished them—she introduced me, indirectly, to some of my best friends: Harriet and her best friends Janie and Sport, Holden Caulfield, the March sisters, The Little Prince with his elephant-eating snake, Rebecca of Sunnybrooke Farms, and Anne of Green Gables, to name just a few. They were my constant companions—I recall my mom always saying, “Never leave the house without a book or your knitting or both,” and to this day I heed that advice.
I became so enraptured with books that I ended up getting two degrees in literature (it still isn’t enough), and my passion for stories passed down to my daughter. As other teenagers are heading back to school this week, we are making our first tentative steps back to our homeschooling roots. My kid, Bird, wants to put together a reading list. I’m so proud.
She’s already read a handful of the traditional high school titles (“To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Outsiders,” “The Crucible,” “Romeo and Juliet”). In an attempt to keep her engaged, I suggested we look toward women, people of color, and non-American authors as a starting point, so we’re going to begin with “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe. Pre-colonial Nigeria in the late 19th century is not easy to read about, but Achebe is such a masterful storyteller that I’m certain Bird will come away with her imagination sparked; perhaps she’ll want to learn more about colonialism, missionaries in Africa, or traditional cultures around the globe. Perhaps she’ll pick up on some element I haven’t discovered yet. The beauty of homeschooling, of course, is that there is no right or wrong path: All learning is good learning.
I don’t know where we’ll go after that. Maybe we’ll move into a universe where love wins—maybe I’ll introduce her to “A Wrinkle in Time.” Or maybe we’ll move on to “Masks” by Fumiko Enchi. My kid is such an open-minded and thoughtful person, I’m curious to see how she reacts to the treatment of Harume. Indeed, I’m curious to see how she responds to the turmoil and dysfunction of all the characters. One thing is certain—it will spark conversation.
The novels listed above are a pretty disparate group, yet they do have a common element: Each one, in its own way, left a footprint on my heart; each one shaped who I am as a reader, a wife, a teacher, a mother, a friend, a resident of the world.
In my fantasies, Bird likes all the same authors I do: Jane Austen, Margaret Mitchell, Isabel Allende, Louise Erdrich, Toni Morrison, J.K. Rowling, and on and on and on. But she’s young, and there are so many stories yet to read, so many stories yet to be written; I’ll let her make up her own mind. Welcome to the readers’ club, Kiddo. Try not to stay up all night, OK?