Monday, May 25, 2009

Book Talk

I'm reading Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires,
and came across a passage where she describes
going into a "dim little French restaurant"
in Manhattan in the 1950's, where her parents
ate two and three times a week:

But what I like even better were the times
Max took me into the private dining room
where the waiters went to smoke. We'd sit
in that tangle of extra chairs and scarred
wooden tables as he and Bruno and Jacques
traded stories, reaching back farther and
farther into their memories.

The best stories always began "When my father
was a waiter..." Hearing that, Bruno would light
a cigarette, Jacques would sip his wine, and I
would cross my legs beneath me and hold my breath."

I'm not even halfway through the book, but
I'm enchanted as Ms. Reichl -- food critic
for the New York Times -- dons disguise after disguise
as she eats her way through the city. In the midst
of the passage quoted above, I was suddenly seized
with the desire to read this aloud to my
23-year-old son, who graduates with his Culinary
Certificate next month. Somehow, I don't think
that this idea would tickle him even half as much
as it does me, and of course I don't intend to
propose it! But the notion of it has summoned up
all sorts of memories of reading aloud to my sons
when they were children.

I believe that maybe I enjoyed it more than they did,
or at least as much. We ploughed through all of
L. Frank Baum's Oz books -- 15+. We devoured
Laura Ingalls Wilder, C.S. Lewis, Betty MacDonald,
Will Hobbs, The Hobbit, The Indian in the Cupboard series,
The Borrowers. Many years of books read every night
for an hour or more, many whose titles I've
forgotten. And one of the best parts, besides
the obvious delight on the part of my boys,
was that I read books I'd somehow missed when
I was a child.

I'll admit that Harry Potter did me in. As popular
as this series is, it just doesn't match up
to the list of books above, at least in the
Reading Aloud Department. HP fails what I like
to refer to as The Saliva Test:
If you pick up any of the books in my list above
and begin to read out loud, you will find
that the words flow along in a smooth
and fluid manner. In a poorly-composed book,
excess saliva will accumulate in your mouth,
usually around the front teeth. This is a very
uncomfortable sensation, and usually results in
unplanned spitting at whichever unfortunate child
is sitting in spitting range. This happened often
when I read the first book in the HP series.
Generally clumsy and stilted (and I expect
barbs to be thrown at me for this), after
sputtering my way all the way to the conclusion,
I proclaimed that I was finished not only
with the HP books, but with reading aloud
as well. (The boys were probably 11 and 13
but still loved our evening ritual.)

I was ready for a change. I'd done my duty,
and then some! For a few months after, each
night I could hear them reading to each other
as they completed the second and third books
in the series. And then even that tapered off.
R. moved into his own space in the basement,
N. reveled in taking ownership
of the formerly-shared bedroom.

I like to think that they grew up book-by-book,
under the tutelage of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle,
Ma Ingalls, Jack Pumpkinhead, Aslin and Bilbo Baggins.
(And, well, uh, me, their mom.)


  1. Well, this isn't exactly a barb - but I believe you have to be able to read Harry Potter with a British accent. I've all the Jim Dale recordings... and he never spits !!

    ...'course... I never read aloud myself.;-)

    love the post - books saved me from being an unhappy child...

  2. Loved this post, T. Thanks! I think Patrice is right--I believe Sean read all of HP in an English accent. Such dedication!

  3. since this is book talk...and since you quote one of those scamming emails....might i recommend a book?
    it's called "i do not come to you by chance," and it's a novel by a nigerian writer, all about the guys in nigeria who write those emails.

    it's a wonderful, big, full, lovely book, with a heartbreaking protagonist and a clear glimpse into nigerian daily life.

    those scammers, too, aren't all bad.....which makes the book even more interesting.

  4. Ima, thanks!

    Patrice, I'm willing to believe you. I think.

    Robin: Sean is a saint.

    Laurie: I'll get that from the library! I went through a phase last summer/fall reading books by African authors....I think it's time to start up again!

  5. Oops! I was using Paul's computer. That was me (Premium T.) in the comments above.

  6. I'm with you on HP. I have four favorite favorite read-aloud books. Both boys were absolutely rapt for Huckleberry Finn and Animal Farm. The Hobbit was the favorite book of one of them for years, and the other liked Watership Down so much that he memorized the rabbit language. IMHO, The Hobbit is far superior to Lord of the Rings.