Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.
So when the pandemic started during the first quarter of the year, my teenage daughter and I started having a late afternoon/ early-evening ritual of reading novels for around 45 minutes to an hour. I have been introducing her to the classics (we read Pride and Prejudice and The Wizard of Earthsea early this year), so it was a natural transition to The Picture Of Dorian Gray since she has been seeing a few Tik-Tok videos referencing how a person had sold his soul for the devil for eternal youth and beauty. I remember being absolutely enamoured with Wilde when I was in my late 20s, and I was so excited to introduce his prose to her.
It is clear from a few chapters in that she was not a fan. In fact, she found the writing misogynist which turned her off the story entirely. She cannot sympathize with any of the characters, and found reading it unnecessarily laborious, especially since she found it difficult to invest in what was going on. There was also darkness that one has invited into one’s home – and the flippant, bored, patronizing attitude of the characters grated on her – and on me. What a different experience to re-read a book and see it through my daughter’s eyes. How did I not recognize the subtle jabs at women’s romantic, emotional, inferior nature very cleverly interwoven in Wilde’s writing?
Rather than persist in something that was evidently a chore for both of us, we decided on picking out a middle grade novel instead. This was prompted by my reading Ann Patchett’s New York Times Article published in 30 March 2020, with the title: “Why We Need Life-Changing Books Right Now.” She mentioned her bookstore Parnassus (which I have had a chance to visit while I was in Nashville – see my post here), and how Kate DiCamillo was doing a book tour in Nashville, which prompted her (along with another friend’s glowing recommendation) to read her books. This is what Ann Patchett has to say:
And so I started to read more of Kate’s books, until in the end I had read every single one of them. There are a lot, but most have pictures. It was one of the most satisfying literary adventures of my life. It was also incredibly calming, which is why I mention it now. There’s something about being able to read an entire book in one sitting that’s emotionally very satisfying. Not only are the books beautifully written, the stories have gorgeous arcs. They twist in ways you never see coming and do not shy away from despair or joy or strangeness. They are, each one, sui generis, each one extraordinary.
So maybe you don’t have children, or they’re not small or not in the house. It doesn’t matter. Read them anyway. Maybe you do have children and you can read these books together as a family. My point is this: Don’t miss out. Do not make the mistake I nearly made and fail to read them because you are under the misconception that they are not for you. They are for you.
So it didn’t matter that my daughter just turned 18, and that I am in my early 40s, we devoured DiCamillo’s Rancheros series, as a way to cleanse ourselves of Wilde’s mocking tone, glorification of beauty to the exclusion of everything else, and darkness of spirit. While we enjoyed all three books (it took us around two and a half weeks to get through all three novels), I was especially gutted by Louisiana’s Way Home. I was just blindsided by it, and found myself not just ugly-crying, but sobbing out loud, that I couldn’t continue reading – my daughter had to get the book from me and continue reading. I am not sure exactly what it was about Louisiana’s journey that tore open wounds I didn’t even know I had – but it was just achingly beautiful, uplifting, and exactly what we needed.