Monday night through Friday night we put aside time to read as a family. Some nights it might be me and my son, some nights my husband will join in, but whoever is there, they will read.
We take turns, sometimes I’ll read for an hour, sometimes we’ll switch back and forth. If a passage speaks to us, we might all read it to each other in our own unique way. This is usually something funny, featuring silly voices and possibly some acting thrown in. My husband is, hands down, the best silly voice actor of us all.
I try to buy books that will appeal to us all, but honestly, I’m not always successful. If I make sure my son will enjoy it, we’re golden, even if it means most of the books are geared toward kids. They seem to be the most hopeful, anyway, which goes a long way with us. We’ve consumed entire series of books, sometimes taking several years to complete. We’ve read all seven Harry Potter books out loud. If I mention The Half-Blood Prince, my son will inevitably ask me if I remember when we had our furnace worked on in the middle of winter and used an industrial heater to keep warm.
The books are memory markers, plotting the progression of his childhood.
We’ve read every Percy Jackson book, every single Laura Ingalls Wilder book, even the last one, which was kind of boring. We powered through it, for Laura’s sake. We read The Hobbit and all three books of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy together, during which we agreed that Heaven is the three of us meeting up at the Green Dragon for some ale.
Intertwined with the fiction are real world memories of temporary homes, particularly a home in the southwest with a bark scorpion infestation, and that of numerous northeast rentals with too many long commutes. We never thought those drives would end. They lasted five hours on a Friday evening and four hours on a Monday morning, every week, week after week. And though the trips were arduous, we read on and we grew closer.
We read to feel a sense of normalcy, we read to keep a routine, to feel we had a predictable ritual on which we could rely, no matter what the next wrench thrown into the cogs of our life together would be. We read on.
This sacred family ritual has gotten us through some hard times. When it’s been too hard to make dinner, too hard to laugh, too hard to play, too hard to get dressed, it was never too hard to read to each other. We traveled to other worlds, temporarily abandoning our own, knowing we’d come back, but not for at least an hour or so.
We now have a common frame of reference as a family. Throw out a line from The Deathly Hallows and my son can finish it. We argue about whether it was sad or not when Charlotte’s babies were born and all but three of them left Wilbur (Mom and Dad think it’s terribly sad, son disagrees). We can’t even talk about Bod leaving the graveyard in The Graveyard Book without crying.
Obviously all books aren’t instantly loved. For example, The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was supposed to be a classic we’d read over and over and treasure forever, blah, blah, etc. I fell asleep while reading the book out loud. If this book is ever mentioned between us, it’s typically while we’re picking out a new book and my son says, “I don’t know mom. Remember the one where the kids ran away to live in the museum? It reminds me of that.” Ok, back on the shelf it goes.
We read another book together titled Riddle of Stars, a book my husband had immersed in as a fourteen year old. On a trip to the bookstore I figured I’d pick it up and surprise him with it. They didn’t have it and no one in the bookstore had heard of it. They also couldn’t seem to order it. I eventually had to buy a used copy on Amazon.
When it arrived my husband was thrilled I’d decided to buy a version with the same exact cover that he remembered. So vintage! I let him believe that’s how it happened and didn’t mention the fact that it appeared to be out of print and the likely cause was that no one wanted to read it.
My son and I found it to be a dramatically long start. After the first chapter, my son put on his headphones and read another book on his own. He said Riddle of Stars was confusing and boring and I agreed. The real riddle was why I continued reading it. I was jealous of my son, sitting in the back seat and opting out. As a front-seater, I was obligated to read on. I prayed for some meaning to emerge, some action to erupt, anything that vaguely resembled a plot.
I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) hide my confusion with the world and characters described in this book, so every few pages I would say something like, “Who are these people — they are people, right?” or “What the hell is even happening right now?”
My husband who hung on every word knowingly, consistently told me to hang on, that it would soon make sense. He explained the plot was disorienting for a reason, but if I was patient, it would pay off. I hung on, I had no choice, and after about five hundred pages, it did pay off. Had I tried to read this book alone, I’m not even sure I would have made it as far as chapter two. There are too many good books out there for me to waste my time with a five hundred page setup.
But then something happened.
Reading Riddle of Stars together over the months became an intimate, shared experience binding us closer as a couple. It almost seemed to reflect the process of marriage itself. There were rough patches where nothing made sense and I wondered why I started, but then stamina rewarded me with a best friend, a constant companion, a character who shared in my flaws and victories, and in the end, overcame it all.
I fear the day when this is no longer a cherished end-of-the-day moment for my son. I saw him roll his eyes last night when I called reading time. But I won’t let go of this talisman against the turmoil of the world easily, if ever.