I know exactly why I am a reader. Because of my mother.
When I was growing up, she read to me every night before bed (even now when I reread Bedtime for Frances, possibly my very favorite childhood book, I hear her voice telling the story). She took me to the library every week. She always found money for me to buy books from the Scholastic Book Fair. She even joined the Parents Magazine Press Book Club and had a book subscription for a period of time. (Such wonderful books came to me that way: Miss Suzy and Alexander and Mog the Forgetful Cat and Harvey’s Hideout.)
But the best thing she did to make me a reader was read herself. She seemed to be always busy and doing and making and going when I was little, yet she found time every day to sit and read. Nothing could have been more powerful than her example. Reading must be very valuable if my very active mother made time to sit down and do it every day.
Although we’re both voracious readers and share many of the same interests and concerns and tastes, our reading lives don’t overlap as much as you might think, and that’s been especially true over the past decade or so as I’ve immersed myself more and more in children’s and young adult literature. She reads an occasional picture book, middle-grade, or YA novel, but it’s not her preferred reading. She has broad reading interests–books on Buddhism and mindfulness, aging and death, quilting, gardening, raising sheep and keeping bees, World War I, women’s detective fiction–and for decades, has exclusively read women writers. I have broad reading interests too, but none of them really overlap with hers, aside from the occasional book on Buddhism.
And so while we do chat all the time about what we’re reading, we rarely read the same books.
But this year, we’re going to read together. We’ve started our very own book club of two to tackle Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge. There are 24 tasks in the challenge, many of them focused on reading diversely–format, genre, author. We’ll also try to read only women authors for the challenge.
I’m open to her recommendations for each category but also hoping that I get to do the work that I love best–scouring the Internet for new-to-me titles to suggest. (Is there a job where all you do is research new books online? If so, I think I’d be really good at it.) After I narrow each category to a few titles, my mom can make the final choice. Then we read at the same time and text for our discussions.
Not at all on purpose, our first book ended up being a “historical romance by an author of color.” Visions of Sarah Plain and Tall clouding my judgment, I pushed hard for a romance about a mail-order bride who moves to Wyoming to marry the local doctor and take care of his daughter. (Readers, it is nothing, NOTHING, like Sarah Plain and Tall.) My mother found two copies at our local library, and so we were off. She’s already finished the book, while I’m stuck between two sex scenes, too frightened to keep reading. (It’s a big leap from middle-grade fiction to “throbbing manhood.”) But if she can do it, so can I. (And the parts that aren’t sex scenes are pretty decent.)
Checking in with each other about progress and responses via texting is really working for me. I like how naturally book chat fits in, interspersed with cat photos and grocery lists and health updates.
I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to think of a yearlong reading challenge with my mom, but I’m glad we’re doing it now.