reading family

Liz and I share a Kindle account, which means both of our books appear in a list on our iPhone, where we do all of our reading. The problem, of course, is that Liz reads a book a week and I complete a book maybe every two months. Which means that I have to scroll through about a half dozen of Liz’s books every time I try to read. It’s totally humiliating.

The good news, though, is that while I have passed on to my children little more than my genetically-perfect eyebrows and my love for cheddar popcorn, Liz has passed on something useful: Her passion for reading. 

Liz has read our kids the entire Narnia series. She’s read them the entire Harry Potter series. She does all the voices, she does it every night, and it’s seriously impressive. It is no surprise they have this love of reading.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not demonizing other forms of media. In my early years, up to age ten, we had a TV, and I have outstanding memories of it.

Our TV was one of those boxy things with a gentle beer belly of a screen. Black and white, no remote. It had two massive dials on it that looked like something off a submarine – the top one was a chunky channel changer that numbered from two to thirteen. Instead of a 1 there was just the letter U. When you changed the channel the dial clunked into place like you had just sealed the Hoover Dam.

When the channels weren’t coming in clearly you had to adjust the metal rabbit ears on the top of the TV, and somebody would have to stand there and literally hold them because rabbit ears, like a puppy, sometimes just needed to be held.

I watched Saturday morning cartoons (which probably looked amazing in color). I watched Gilligan’s Island and the Love Boat and Miami Vice. I wasn’t allowed to watch the 1983 TV movie The Day After about the coming nuclear holocaust (these were the Reagan years, people). The latest I ever stayed up in my life to that point was for the Jerry Lewis telethon because they promised that KITT, the car from Knight Rider, would be coming on. But I never saw KITT and I’ve been disappointed ever since.

The TV was great. It was fun.

But the TV told me what to think. It gave me all the detail I needed. The content from it came prepackaged, like a microwaveable dinner that you heated and peeled back the hot plastic.

Don’t get me wrong. I liked TV.

But I loved the library.

This might sound corny, but if magic was a real thing, I believe that walking into the library as a kid would be what magic felt like.

The smell of the library hit me first. There is nothing like that smell of books – rich and boundless. I would wander past the boring stuff – the rows of Encyclopedias where you did your book reports, photocopying the pages about the Aztecs, pressing the thick binding down to the glass to make sure you got it all.

Past the Reference section, past Adult Non-Fiction, and you were in the Children’s section. You could scoot past the baby books with their half-inch thick cardboard pages on waist-high shelves.

And then you would arrive in the taller shelves – the forest of middle grade and young adult. Laid out in front of you was this wall of adventure, pressed in two-inch increments, each one marked with mysterious little call numbers at the base of the spine.

It was better than a candy store. It was better than a toy store and better than going to the movies. It was better because this moment, standing in this forest of possibility, you experienced the most counter-cultural thing of all: It was all completely free. You could just take it. You couldn’t pay for it if you tried. The librarian would take out that little card inside the back cover, stamp a return date, and hand you your small stack of books, and you could just walk out the door.

I am blessed with many wonderful memories in my life, as a child and as an adult. But there are few memories more consistently magical than losing myself in a library book that cost me nothing and gave me an experience that I might never forget. There are characters in books that I read and reread that I recall far more vividly than I remember actual friends I had.

I was a voracious reader when I was young. I do far more writing than reading now, probably because I am so desperate to try to create that magical feeling – maybe the way people who love music learn to play guitar in order to create the thing they love.

But Lizzie, she keeps the kids reading. She never stops. And when I read with the kids, when we are all reading together, I am as happy as I am doing anything. It reminds me of the endless hours I spent reading quietly and happily with my own parents, both great readers.

I’ll share this great moment from last year:

Finn asked to read Little Princes, the memoir I wrote. I told him no for a long time, feeling like it was too old for him. But Liz gave him the book anyway and told him he could start it.

He took it and he didn’t put it down. Four days later, he had read the entire book. I took a picture of him reading it.

 

 

What made it especially amazing for me was that I wrote Little Princes in the months around Finn’s birth. My first meeting with publishers bidding on the book was the day Finn was born – which meant the first person I called when we were heading to the hospital was not my mother but my literary agent, who immediately cancelled all our meetings.

So I ended up meeting HarperCollins (my publisher) five days later, bleary-eyed, showing them photos of my newborn son. This was the photo I passed around…

 

 

So for me, seeing Finn, who is born at the end of the book, reading that book, was a thing to behold.

Last night at dinner Lizzie and I listened as Finn and Lucy, readers both, children of readers, lovers of the library, told us about the stories they are writing. Lucy’s was about a stray dog. Finn’s is about a kid who finds a way to deal with an older bully. And it took everything I had not to leap over the broccoli and hug both of them until it was time for bed. 

Anyway. In case you’re looking for new reading material, here are….

The Top Five Books My Kids Have Read This Past Year:

1.) Dork Diaries (Rachel Renee Russell).

The library can’t keep the Dork Diaries in stock. There are a million of them. And they’re all funny and amazing and girls love them. And the fact that little girls relate to being dorks is pretty much the best thing ever.

2.) Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney).

Finn awaits the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid the way I wait for the next Star Wars. It makes me almost sympathetic toward the author, knowing how much pressure is on him to please those kids. But like Dork Diaries, the amazing thing about these books is that they are all about how it’s okay to be dorky and wimpy. I’m guessing the Greatest Generation didn’t have a lot of books like that.

3.) The Losers Club (Andrew Clements).

About a kid who can’t stop reading. So he starts a club that he doesn’t want anyone to join – in order to ward people away he names it The Losers Club, because then he can be alone. Finn, an introvert like his dad, LOVES this book. I sort of want to start a Losers Club now.

4.) Fuzzy Mud (Louis Sachar).

Finn is in a book club in 4th grade, which is just unbearably cute even though I can’t say that, much in the way I’m not allowed to say “play date” with him anymore because he’s in 4th grade and now it’s called a “hang out.” I’d be embarrassed too if I was my father.  Fuzzy Mud was written by the guy who wrote Holes. I’m reading it now because when Finn finishes a book he likes he’s all like “Dad, you have to read this” so I try to. Of course Lizzie has already read it because Lizzie has read everything.

5.) Pegasus Book 1: The Flame of Olympus. (Kate O’Hearn)

Lemme tell you how to get a second grader to read a serious chapter book: When Pegasus crashes onto a Manhattan roof during a terrible storm, Emily’s life changes forever. That’s how. Who doesn’t want to be a Emily right now? Everyone wants to be Emily. You want to be Emily, I want to be Emily. This is a great series.

Okay, thanks for letting me babble on about books and stuff. I’m done.

By | 2018-10-17T07:04:54+00:00 October 17th, 2018|49 Comments

49 Comments

  1. Liz October 17, 2018 at 7:14 am - Reply

    What are everyone’s favorite books?

  2. Another Liz October 17, 2018 at 7:15 am - Reply

    I distinctly remember the film “The Day After”, because I was living in Kansas City at the time, NOT because I actually watched it — I chose to go running that evening and the streets were EMPTY! It felt more like the rapture than a nuclear holocaust.

    • Another Liz October 17, 2018 at 7:17 am - Reply

      P.S. My favorite book is “Christy” — I read it at age 11 in 2 days.

      • Conor October 17, 2018 at 9:53 am - Reply

        Just looked it up! Was it a little house on the prairie time period?

        • Another Liz October 17, 2018 at 11:34 am - Reply

          Early 20th century.

      • Linda Grimes October 22, 2018 at 12:06 am - Reply

        I loved that book too! (Was that the one with the flood or was that “Julia?) Both great books!

    • Conor October 17, 2018 at 9:52 am - Reply

      I almost thought I’d imagined it, but it was such a huge movie back then!

  3. Mark October 17, 2018 at 7:34 am - Reply

    As a kid, I loved The Wind in the Willows; when I was even more a kid, I loved The Little Engine that Could. But TV captured me and I lost my love of books, and I really didn’t get free of that prison until after college. Now I love to read. I’m reading a book right now by Canadian physicist Lee Smolin called Time Reborn. It’s about how time is actually REAL. (I didn’t know this before I read the book, but the conclusion of all our physics, from Newton to Einstein to Hawking, etc., is that time is not real.) Smolin is proposing a radical departure from the collected knowledge of history to solve some of the thorny issues that it has been unable to solve. If he’s right, his proposal will be as radical and “game-changing” for science as Einstein’s relativity theory or Hawking’s proof that black holes exist. Anyway, if stuff like this fascinates you, I highly recommend it.

    • Conor October 17, 2018 at 9:54 am - Reply

      I went through a physics phase- I remember in my 20’s reading how to build a time machine, a book on how time travel would work in theory. Mind blowing.

  4. Sharon October 17, 2018 at 8:21 am - Reply

    My favourite book is still Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian, which is about a young boy called William being evacuated from London to the countryside during WW2. I remember getting it in Junior School from the ‘Puffin Club’ (which was like a mail order thing the school did once every few months). I used to get so excited when new books arrived and loved the newly printed smell. I still have that book now aged 46! Even now, the story evokes such vivid scenes in my imagination. I love it. She also did another book called Back Home which was the story of a girl coming back to Britain, having been evacuated to America during the war. Again, it was so well told. I love it when you can get completely lost in a book and play it out in your imagination like a film!

    • Conor October 17, 2018 at 9:57 am - Reply

      Good call! It reminds me of a book call the Machine Gunners by Robert Westall – one of the most amazing books I read growing up!

      • Sharon October 17, 2018 at 1:20 pm - Reply

        Oh, I don’t know how that one passed me by. I did and still have a huge interest in WW2 and read lots of books about evacuees and children’s experiences during the war. I still love any books, films and TV shows set in this time period. I might dig that one out and have a read – thanks!

    • Linda Grimes October 22, 2018 at 12:07 am - Reply

      I LOVE “Goodnight Mr. Tom!”

  5. Lance Arguello October 17, 2018 at 9:11 am - Reply

    I’m in the middle of about 35 books from the past 8 years. As daunting as that seems – I Shall One Day Conquer Those Books! I do love to read but obviously only parts of many books. SMH!

    • Conor October 17, 2018 at 10:01 am - Reply

      I have friends that have to finish a book once they start – I am all about dumping it if I don’t like it.

  6. Mike Ostrow October 17, 2018 at 9:29 am - Reply

    Redwall by Brian Jacques
    The Mismane Chronicles by M.I. McAllister
    Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
    The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
    Watership Down by Richard Adams

    • Conor October 17, 2018 at 10:02 am - Reply

      Oh man – Phantom Toll booth!! How could I forget?? Magical. And Watership Down was insane. Looking up the others now.

  7. Chloe October 17, 2018 at 9:49 am - Reply

    My favorite book that I’ve read so far this year is Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. Amazing and amazingly funny. I just finished a book on race/racism called “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together at the Cafeteria?” It was extremely powerful and eye-opening. Now I’m onto Thirst by Scott Harrison.

    • Conor October 17, 2018 at 10:02 am - Reply

      Okay, checking into all of them as we speak……

      • Mark October 17, 2018 at 10:14 am - Reply

        I read an advance copy of Thirst. It’s an incredible redemption story and a huge inspiration. (A lot like Little Princes.) And Scott’s a really good guy. I’m honored to have gotten to know him.

        • Liz October 17, 2018 at 9:20 pm - Reply

          Charity: Water Scott Harrison? We should read?

        • Chloe October 17, 2018 at 9:40 pm - Reply

          Dad: Yes!! That’s why I bought it, I remembered it sitting on the island. And Liz, ABSOLUTELY. Proof?? I started last night and am halfway through it.

          • Conor October 18, 2018 at 10:43 am

            We’re on it.

  8. Dad October 17, 2018 at 10:02 am - Reply

    Yep–you hit that one right–Early library, where to be alone, relishing or at least easy with solitude. A whole small safe world. Mine was in Rathmines, I showed you it a hundred years ago. Irreplaceable. From Rathmines via Pleasantville and Poughkeepsie to New Canaan–lord. A good lineage. Bless Liz.

    • Conor October 17, 2018 at 10:06 am - Reply

      I still recall the smell of your office in the Vassar Library! Home of the Book Report. I love that. We’ll have to revisit Rathmines!

  9. Laura October 17, 2018 at 11:29 am - Reply

    My favorite book as a kid was The Cricket in Times Square. I loved imagining NYC as a little girl, and who knew I would end up living there when I got married??! I still love NYC!!!

    • Conor October 17, 2018 at 11:40 am - Reply

      How have I never heard of this? I love all books from NYC!

  10. Heather October 17, 2018 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    Liz, I love Jane Eyre. She’s my favorite. Lately, I’ve been enjoying the Louise Penny mystery series. Gamache is a the chief of police in Quebec, he’s happily married, and a kind man who is a good reader of people and their motives. The series takes place in Three Pines, a village close to the Vermont/Canada border. By the time you’re to book 2 of the series, you want to live there. It’s quite good.

    • Conor October 17, 2018 at 1:52 pm - Reply

      I love books that can make you feel that!

    • Liz October 17, 2018 at 9:22 pm - Reply

      Love books like that! Adding to my list!

    • Linda Grimes October 24, 2018 at 9:58 am - Reply

      I love Louise Penny! Her personal stories (about her dogs or her husband) on her blog make me sob. Her new book comes out November 28th!

  11. Crista Mathew October 17, 2018 at 4:01 pm - Reply

    This brings back a lot of memories Conor!

    I was a late bloomer with reading but I remember third grade summer I got the reading bug. My favorite books were the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy series. I also loved From the Mixed up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankwiler and A Wrinkle in Time.

    • Conor October 17, 2018 at 9:08 pm - Reply

      Mixed Up Files!! Hall of Fame. I love that.

  12. Kelly October 17, 2018 at 7:19 pm - Reply

    As a kid I fell in love with reading while my dad read the Harry Potter books aloud to me. After that came Little House on the Prairie/ all things Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Dear America books, the American Girl doll books, the 39 Clues series, and Percy Jackson. I can’t decide if a book is a favorite until it’s been a couple of months since I read it. The best books (in my humble high schooler opinion so please take this worth a grain of salt if you disagree) are those that you find yourself thinking of months and years after you’ve read them.
    For me, thus far in my life, some of those are: The Help, Matilda, The Breadwinner, Little Princes (i feel like i need to say that this is a favorite i list to anyone who will listen, not just on the list i comment on the author’s blog), The Underground Girls of Kabul, Pride and Prejudice, Rebecca, and Among the Reeds.

    • Conor October 17, 2018 at 9:12 pm - Reply

      Outstanding books!! I couldn’t believe how good Percy Jackson was! And 39 clues was a recent discovery. And the Little House books, incredible. Pride and Prejudice is one of my all time favorites, I think I wrote more papers on that than any other book in my whole life. Great suggestions Kelly!

  13. Jessie Pilly October 17, 2018 at 8:44 pm - Reply

    Years ago I stood before a class of 5th graders talking about being a newspaper reporter. One kid brought up the book “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen. I’ve read that book 2 or 3 times and broke it down. Talking about themes, inciting incidents, turning point and climax. They were stunned, but I’m a reader. We had no TV until I was 9. Dad was a school librarian. My library was in a Victorian Mansion with deep rich hardwoods, grand staircases, marble fireplaces, there was even a ballroom on the third floor that was closed to the public, but I saw it because I hung out there all the time. I thought all libraries were like that!

    • Conor October 17, 2018 at 9:13 pm - Reply

      Finn was LITERALLY asking me about Hatchet tonight at dinner! I had never heard of it – I’m looking for it immediately.

  14. Heaather October 17, 2018 at 9:48 pm - Reply

    My oldest son loved Island of the Blue Dolphins, and Where the Red Fern Grows, and any book by Rick Riordan.
    My middle loved The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Redwall series, Harry Potter, Mike Venezia’s nonfiction books about artists and musicians, and the Tunnels series.
    My youngest daughter loved the Warriors books and the blue, Red, yellow, green,pink and orange Fairy Books by Andrew Lang. These have been READ MULTIPLE TIMES! Enjoy your reading adventures with the kids!

    • Conor October 18, 2018 at 10:45 am - Reply

      The Fairy Books! That’s one I forgot, Lucy loves those! Nothing like reading books over and over!

  15. Liz Rehmamm October 18, 2018 at 2:36 am - Reply

    Conor, Liz, love this blog post. Ours are mad readers too.. Finn and Lucy might like Timmy Failure series, Moone boy and the Tom Gates series. Matthew loves them – he’s the same age as Finn- he asked for a typewriter for his last birthday to write a ‘novel’!! That Grennan literary gene carries on!!

    • Conor October 18, 2018 at 10:46 am - Reply

      That’s so awesome. A typewriter!! How cool is that?? I have to check out those books…

  16. Elsa October 18, 2018 at 4:33 am - Reply

    Oh, how I loved reading your post!! ( You knew I would). “Sealed the Hoover dam”. I could feel and hear it rememberung. the tv of my youth too -something I hadn’t thought about in decades! And then Finn reading Little Princes. I gasped and nearly had tears. I intend to reread it all again.
    Borrowers Afield was the book that made me a reader. And, the biography of Joan of Arc. Seriously. And The Bobbsey Twins. Nancy Drew. Cherry Ames.
    And looking at National Geograohuc made me want to go places. Like Nepal.

    • Conor October 18, 2018 at 10:47 am - Reply

      You are the Queen of this!! You actually introduced me to the BoxCar children when you brought them to Nepal – I bet those books are worn completely thin at this point! I love the impact you’ve had on classrooms, Elsa!! We need more YOU!!

  17. Linda Grimes October 22, 2018 at 12:14 am - Reply

    So much to say about books! For Finn, and Liz, I recommend “By the Great Horn Spoon.” I think it’s around the fourth or fifth grade level and it’s a great read-aloud book because of the fun way the dialogue is written. For adults, I recommend all of the Patrick Taylor books. Read them in order. About an Irish country doctor, somewhat autobiographical. Just love all those characters in the Irish villages. Very heartwarming and very much about people. The fourth one in the series was my favorite. They reminded me of the James Herriot books which are brilliant!

    • Conor October 22, 2018 at 10:41 am - Reply

      I’ve never heard of By the Great Horn Spoon – checking it out!

  18. Pat M October 23, 2018 at 7:29 pm - Reply

    In our town library when I was a kid there was a row of biographies all the same size with orange covers and blue lettering. My favorites. When I was 11 I wrote a book on tablet paper and sent it off to Viking Press. I asked them to publish it in an orange cover with blue lettering. They didn’t, but they encouraged me to keep writing.

    • Conor October 24, 2018 at 6:12 am - Reply

      Oh my gosh, I love that they wrote back! That makes my day!!

  19. Anne October 31, 2018 at 1:08 am - Reply

    Hi Conor
    I read this when you first posted it-honest I did! I even started to comment back right then to share some of my favorite reads. Little Princes is right up there and has been my go-to recommendation since reading it with my daughter the summer she left for college. Your honest and humorously humble voice conveying pride, joy, fear, new love, and driven compassion continue to spark conversation years later.
    I only ‘started to comment back’ because I’m a bit of a rule follower and my all time favorite is CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce, and there are other favorites too, in other genres, and from longer ago. Soon I was tapping out titles from each life stage from the ‘80s to the 2010’s, along with memories of reading best-sellers with my husband, board books with my babies and dystopian fiction with my pre-teens. When I could no longer scroll down in the comment box, I paused, and chose. I chose to move to a text editor so I could keep writing. And as I wrote I realized with great joy something I’d never appreciated about reading before. Words on the page don’t just connect us with the characters, or even the author, but how much they connect us with each other.
    So THANK YOU Conor, for giving up some of your reading so you can write. It blesses us. (And thank you for encouragement to write too-it’s kinda fun!)
    Looking forward to tomorrow’s post!

    • Conor October 31, 2018 at 7:15 am - Reply

      I love that! Thank you for not giving up Anne!! 🙂

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