I am a bookworm of the highest order. Ever since I learned to read at the age of four – which was largely an act of will because I saw my big brother learning to read during his early elementary school years and wanted to be able to do it too – I have always had a book going. Other people turn on the television for a while before they go to sleep each night – not me. The television in my bedroom hasn’t been turned on in months – instead I put myself to bed with a book or a magazine every evening.
People who know my family expect this because my mom was a junior college English professor for many, many years. If your parent is a teacher, particularly an English teacher, everyone assumes that you were born with a book in your hand and that the parent in question read to you every day of your life. In my case, it didn’t work out that way. Apparently, if you teach several sections of English composition or literature classes, especially if you do so while also tending to a marriage, a home, three kids, and work as a church musician, you don’t have time to read.
Make no mistake, I was certainly never discouraged from reading as much as I wanted. I think the only downside to my book addiction was that it was hard for my parents to effectively ground me when I deserved it (and I promise, I did deserve it), because when your bookworm child gets in hot water and is sent to her room, but the room has two six-foot bookshelves, the kid is not really being punished.
Because Mom was so busy with other things, I grew up not really knowing much about what she liked to read. I knew she taught Shakespeare classes, and I knew what some of her favorite pieces that would be discussed and written about in her composition classes. I knew that The Importance Of Being Earnest is one of her favorite plays, because she talked about it a lot and taught it in her classes. But did I know what books my mother loved growing up? No, I did not. And since she didn’t give up teaching until I was in my thirties, I had kind of gotten used to the notion that my mom would not be a reading buddy of mine. I never even took the time to think that was a little sad, because I was so used to it and because I have acquired so many other bookworm buddies in my life.
Then something changed. The church where my mom directs choir started a book club and mom joined.
At first, it didn’t really register that Mom had joined a book club. She didn’t really talk about it that much, and because she was busy with some thorny issues related to settling my dad’s estate, she didn’t always get to read the books or attend the meetings. But around a year and a half ago, it registered to me that the book club was popping up in conversation more and more often. At first we talked more about the fact that attempting to read physical books when you are in your late sixties can be a pain in the but than we talked about the books, but then Mom bought a Kindle and the book club started trying to make sure that most books they chose were available in electronic form so that the members would be able to read comfortably. Once Mom figured out what in the wide world of sports she was doing with the Kindle, she started talking about these great books that the club read. At the tender age of 68-ish, after a decades long career sharing the wonders of English composition and various types of literature with students, it was like a whole new world of literature opened up for her.
So now, my mom is becoming my book buddy. I’m not part of her book club because I live 250 miles away, but she sure does tell me what books the group is reading. This year for Christmas, she bought me a couple of her group’s selections as Christmas gifts and then poked me every so often to see whether I’d read them because she wanted to talk about them with me. In the case of one book, The Shack by William P. Young, she got downright annoying in her insistence that I read the book, because it is spiritual in nature and she knows I’ve been pissed off at God for a good long time. Turns out, the woman was actually right about that book. Once I finally read it, I really loved it, and it made me see things differently. And I didn’t just find a neat book, I found out some things about how my mom views her faith too.
It’s a neat experience, sharing books with my mom. Turns out, she likes some of the same stuff I do – though I don’t know that she is quite ready for some of the British satire stuff that I get into, we definitely don’t have polar opposite tastes. And even more than sharing the experience of reading with my mom, I love that just when you think you’ve got someone figured out, you realize you don’t.
What else have you got up your sleeve, Momma?