Baryshnikov and Astaire
Gardening - March 18, 2006


Kitchen and pantry cabinets can be commandeered in the fight to find bookshelf space, and a family’s eating habits can be changed. When the china is displaced by paper plates, there is no longer any reason why books cannot be stored in the dishwasher too.

The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petroski

Reading has always been one of my greatest pleasures, and libraries some of my favorite places.

My elementary school was a progressive, “learn-at-your-own-pace,” experimental 60’s type place. That was ideal for me (and I ended up feeling straight jacketed when we moved and I had to go to a traditional school in fifth grade), but one of the things I loved most was the library. You could only take two books out at a time, but I could leave home early to walk to school and stop in the library beforehand to exchange my two for two more.

Junior high and high school, in traditional schools, were slow-paced and boring. I read my way through. Looking back, I’m amazed that I never got in trouble, but being a quiet girl sitting in the back of class and getting all her work done, I guess I didn’t pose enough of a problem. From fifth grade on, any purse I bought had to be big enough to fit a paperback in (That’s right – as I’ve written, I refuse to carry a cell phone or Ipod, but I always have to have a book).

I had a pattern to what I read – I started out with romance and science fiction, then went to classics, then to heavy non-fiction – philosophy etc. Then, I’d be “read out” and it was back to romances and sci-fi (not to slight either genre; I still love both).

One of the most wonderful things about college was the library. The sort of books I’d found it hard to get - minor books by major authors or unusual non-fiction - was easy to find in college libraries. And browsing was wonderful! There were so many new and unusual things to read! Classes kind of got in the way – although some classes introduced me to books I’d stayed away from. After the sad tale of Oliver Twist, I’d avoided Dickens until my European history professor had us read a Tale of Two Cities, which, though also sad, ended up being one of my favorites. The Literature in Translation course was great; we read Colette, among other things.

When I had children, I wanted them to love reading too. With my first child, in order to encourage a love of books, I would drop whatever I was doing when he came up to me with a book. He picked up on this pretty quickly, and dishwashing could take forever.

He started learning to read when he was three. By the time he was four, when we came home from a library trip, he would spend the afternoon intently working his way through his stack of books. One day, when I picked him up from nursery school, he had dried tear-tracks on his face; “Miss N wouldn’t let me finish my book!”

When I’m reading, I always prefer to have a moment or two to transition from a book to the “real world,” or, shall we say, the world visible to everyone else. I’ve always tried to give the same consideration to my children. If I need to interrupt them, I tell them that when they get to a stopping place, it’s time for dinner, bed, etc. After nursery school that day, I had to explain to my barely-four-year-old son that not all grownups look at reading in the same way – so reading at school was more likely to be interrupted. He didn’t go back to preschool after the summer was over. He didn’t want to, and part of the reason, I think, was that it got in the way of his reading (or anything else he was interested in doing!). But, his preschool experience will get a post of its own, eventually…

When my daughter came along, I wanted to keep encouraging reading, though, with two children, dishes couldn’t wait forever! One late afternoon, I was tired and sat down to read for a few minutes. My son, about 4 ¾ at the time, came in, saw me, picked up a book, snuggled up next to me, and started reading also. Then my daughter crawled in. She looked at what we were doing, crawled over to her books, plunked down on her bottom, pulled out a book, and started looking through it.

Yes!!!!! Just what I wanted!

We’ve always had “quiet time” in the afternoon, even after they stopped taking naps. I need some time to think my own thoughts and recharge my batteries before dinner and the evening. It’s not something the children liked at first, though. I explained it to my older son a number of times – that, without quiet time, I become very impatient. One afternoon, I was losing my patience, and he quietly turned to me and said, “Mommy, I think you need to go and read for awhile.”

When she was a preschooler, my daughter took another tack in getting a steady stream of books. While listening to me read out loud, she would also watch the pages left in the book. When I got within a few pages of the end, she’d climb down from the couch to get another book, which she then could happily present to me as I finished and closed the current one. That worked.

She took longer than her older brother to learn to read, but that was partly due to her frustration at the inconsistencies of the English language, and the fact that she was listening to detailed chapter books – either from me or on tape. Easy readers were boring to her. When she finally learned to read, she disappeared into books for half a year.

Now, the older two both read voraciously. My daughter reads about as fast as I do, which is not common. A major part of the older children’s birthday gifts this year consisted of books – The Complete Short Stories of Arthur C. Clarke, Inkspell by Cornelia Funke, Eldest by Christopher Paolini, Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia McKillip, Mortal Engines, Shelf Life, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Wolf Tower, Great Songs of Faith, and a Mexican history book. I think the owner of Brick Alley Books in Hillsborough (where I always order my books) probably loves to get a call from me.

My younger son felt intimidated by learning to read, but he’s currently picking it up pretty quickly. He also loves being read to (currently, we’re in the middle of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Book Dragon, The Littles and Dragon Rider, plus we read various shorter books), and he also loves a good library trip. His book strategy, since he’s the youngest and it’s harder to get me to sit still, is to bring me a big stack of books. I read until my voice starts going hoarse.

When going on vacation, many people make sure they have the right clothes or sports equipment. We make sure we have the right books. The pre-vacation library trips (usually to at least three different libraries) are some of the most important parts of our vacation preparation. For our yearly fall, mountain vacation, we rent a cottage and have long, TV-less evenings to talk, read, or play games. For myself, I write down books all year that look interesting, and try to find the best ones for vacation. My rule of thumb is about 1 ½ books per vacation day, both because I read fast and also so that I have a good selection in case some don’t turn out to be as interesting as they looked. I’m sure the older children have their own rule of thumb, and I always bring a good stack of picture books and a few good chapter books for our younger son.

Libraries. We’ve got library cards for five libraries – Chapel Hill, Hillsborough, Carrboro, Durham and Wake County. At any point, we usually have books out of about three since each library collection has its own personality.  I used to have also have user cards for the UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke libraries, but I haven't had the time since my younger son was born.

We’ve watched as bookstores have come and gone. Some of our favorites, where we could all spend a long time browsing, are gone – such as the Rainbow Book and News in Winston-Salem, Atticus Books in Greensboro, Intimate Books in Chapel Hill, or Chapter Two Books in Charleston. They’ve become victims of the big box stores (though the big box stores can be useful if we need something immediately, or to browse and find new things to order from Brick Alley). Others seem to have found their niche like the Regulator in Durham or Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh. Unfortunately, there currently isn’t an independent bookstore in Chapel Hill – the only one there had to close last summer. The shopping center wanted another store there. So far, the space is still vacant. Sigh.

The greatest book “danger” to the order of our house, however, is used book stores. There, you can get many books very inexpensively – from Edward McKay’s in Greensboro or Knoxville, or Half Price Books in Chapel Hill or Durham. McKay’s is particularly dangerous to our budget since they have a great selection of CD’s also.

Speaking of bringing books home to find their place - we don’t have a dining room. The room that should be the dining room is the library instead, with as many bookshelves as we can fit in, and books double-shelved and piled all over. You can never have too many books.


Erin Monahan

I absolutely love running into posts like this. I've always been crazy about reading, and have always fostered that love in my children. My oldest son read on college level by the 5th grade, he reads me under the table - and I'm unbelievably happy that he does. I've been lucky that they all love to read (well, 5 out of 6 anyway, the little guy hasn't quite picked up on it yet, but I figure that's ok at 3 months of age lol)

"When I’m reading, I always prefer to have a moment or two to transition from a book to the “real world,” or, shall we say, the world visible to everyone else. I’ve always tried to give the same consideration to my children. If I need to interrupt them, I tell them that when they get to a stopping place, it’s time for dinner, bed, etc."

My mother thinks I'm crazy that I do this. She thinks they should be able to drop the book and go. I never could do that lol, and I figure I can indulge them an extra minute or 2 to finish up and re-adjust.

It tickles me to hear my son say "Oh NO! I FINISHED it!" because I have the same reaction to finishing a book!

Excellent post - glad to see I'm not the only one ;)

Moomin Light


"It tickles me to hear my son say "Oh NO! I FINISHED it!" because I have the same reaction to finishing a book!"

I end up feeling like I just came up for air (or something like that). The world around me seems...strange. It's part of why I love really long books - I can be immersed in them for longer. And trilogies are even better!

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