Here’s one thing I got right

I was lying in bed thumbing through my iPhone photos and a theme emerged. It’s a common thread that’s been there for years, but I didn’t see it until I read One For The Books by humorist Joe Queenan. It’s about his love for books and bookstores–two subjects near and dear to my heart.

On my About page, it says I don’t have a clue what constitutes proper parenting. Ain’t that the truth! I hadn’t planned on having children but here I am responsible for raising two daughters. I’ve made some stupid missteps and colossal blunders, but Queenan’s book made me realize that I actually did get one really important thing right. Without intending to, I gave them a beautiful gift. Since Queenan is a much, much better writer that I can ever hope to be, I’ll let him take it from here.

“It’s helpful for small children if the first book that grabs their attention is also the first book that breaks their hearts. It gets them in the mood for Romeo and Juliet, Ethan Fromme, marriage, life.”

book5“…you will discover, as Samuel Johnson observed, that not all wisdom is to be found in books. But an awful lot of it is.”

book4“Because of books, my children grew up to be bright and inquisitive, while a lot of their peers grew up to be clowns. Social scientists will tell you that surrounding your children with books will have no quantifiable effect on the molding of their personalities. Nature trumps nurture at every turn, they maintain. But, as is so often the case with social scientists, they are wrong.”

book6“…a person develops early in life a pattern of behavior or a set of complimentary skills to deal with a particular problem, but then, long after the problem has been resolved, he does not automatically abandon the behavior. Decades after my bitter housing project days were over, I continued to read feverishly, almost desperately, at all hours of the day and night, because reality was never as sublime as the reality to be found in books. And once you are hooked, you are hooked.”

book7“To order a book online [instead of visiting a bookstore], to procure it by overnight shipment, would wreck everything. It would strip my life of all the magical, unscientific qualities I most value.”

book9“The presence of books in my hands, my home, my pockets, my life will never cease to be essential to my happiness. I will never own an e-reader. I have no use for them. A dimly remembered girlfriend’s handwriting will never take me by surprise in a Nook. A faded ticket to the Eiffel Tower will never fall out of a Kindle. I am a Luddite and proud of it.”

book2“Purchasing a secondhand book does absolutely nothing for a writer. Less than nothing. There is, it seems to me, a poverty of spirit about not wanting to purchase the shiny new book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. People should consider it an honor to pay full price for a book by Don DeLillo or Margaret Atwood. An honor.”


*      *      *

Look at this ridiculous juxtaposition:

photo(10)That would be EXCURSION, me, ARMADA. Out here in the rough, tough  New Jersey suburbs, you need an ARMADA to take what’s thrown at you. I love the names. They convey an image. The dictionary defines ARMADA as:

1. any fleet of warships.
2. a large group or force of vehicles, airplanes, etc.: an armada of transport trucks.

These behemoths are piloted by suburban housefraus wearing sweat pants, yammering into on cell phones and carrying an extra large Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. Not invading hordes of Mongolians. Big, fat cars for our big, fat nation.

63 thoughts on “Here’s one thing I got right

  1. But, you have to have a big car to be safe on the road! You know, against all the other big cars! Hell, I’m big and fat and choose to drive a small car.

    Love the book pictures. That gives me some hope for the future 🙂

  2. It’s wonderful to give children such a gift. I still remember being criticised in grade 5 for reading romance books when I was supposed to be reading Tolkien. But I read them voraciously.

    Love the car photo. Last week I bought a chair and table for a deck off my bedroom. I asked the man in the store if it was flat packed and would fit in my car. He said – well do you have an SUV? Nope, said I. What about a station wagon? Nope, I said – I just have a regular car. He looked at me like I was weird.

    • I’d like to take more credit for being a thoughtful parent but it was simply a case of monkey-see, monkey-do. They saw me sitting around with my face buried in books and emulated my behavior. Good thing they’re too young to follow me into a casino. There’s one behavior I don’t want them to emulate.

      • It’s way more impactful when it’s what they see you doing – we can say “read books” all we want but if our heads are buried in technology (non-books!) or in front of the computer, it’s not going to work.

        And well yeah, they may eventually emulate those other behaviors as well…but everything in moderation, hopefully.

  3. Those are amazing photos Mark. You have wonderful children. I personally agree wih the book theme, but new books are not cheap and it is much more economical when you don’t have much, to get e-versions. I’d rather the child have a plethora than a paucity of words – even if it means using electronics. The big, gas guzzling SUV’s kind of caught me by surprise at the end. I agree that conspicuous consumption is a threat to our society and even our lifes and certainly our environment. To me they are a mark of a feeling of powerlessness that requires bigger and better to feel safe and happy. That, to me, means that people have lost their moral compass, feel lost, and are trying to “possess” the world instead of realizing they are a part of it. It is as sad as it is dangerous. And I have no clue how it can be made better. I guess the best we can do is , as Micheal Jackson so eloquenty put it (I didn’t have much respect for him personally but some of his music was brilliant), in The Man in the Mirror: If you want to change the world, look in the mirror and change the man you see standing there.

    • My kids are lucky to have my wife as a mother. If it were left solely up to me, I shudder to think what they’d become. And I’m not fishing for compliments or have any false modesty. I really don’t have a clue what I’m doing. But she does.

      I have no problem with them using e-readers. It’s the wave of the future and although it too late for me–I’m an old school book guy and always will be–I’d rather see them swept into the future than imprisoned in the past.

      I actually really like my tiny Subaru. It’s a killer in the snow. Someone once told me, “Oh, you drive the lesbian car.” I had no idea! Many years ago I had two Siamese cats and I was told, “Oh, you have the gay cats.” Again, WHO KNEW?! I wish they’d publish a newsletter or something for the straight community.

  4. My first proper book was Watership Down by Richard Adams…. it did indeed break my heart… but, it did also give me the reading fever.
    Please don’t send those big cars over here otherwise all the roads would have to be widened… taking out a few roadside houses no doubt.

    • That’s one of those books I keep thinking I need to read but haven’t gotten around to yet. It’s supposed to be pretty brilliant. Reading fever is the kind of sickness everyone should have. It’s the good addiction.

      Isn’t that photo silly? Sometimes I think our country is such a mess. But people keep flocking here, so we must be doing something right. Maybe they all want big cars.

  5. We did the same with the coconut krewe! they were surrounded by books from the beginning and music, all sorts of music. we do our best, sugarpie and the rest is up to them. re the cars, dude, who knew there were GAY CARS???? xoxoxoxo

    i just remembered a story about books and children. i’ll never forget the first time captain chaos saw his cousin building something with his mother’s books and then using a truck to knock it down. the captain grabbed the truck and told his cousin that books were for reading and that he should use his blocks instead if he was going to knock stuff down. they haven’t changed much since then. . .

    • I didn’t get married until fairly late in life. I lived in New York for decades. Then I go and buy a Subaru! I think there are people who feel I’m a repressed homosexual but that is not the case. Believe me, if I had any inclinations I’d have acted on them long ago. I don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of. If I were gay, I’d be gay with a mad vengeance. There would be no wondering if I am or not.

  6. The e-reader saves trees – there’s no need to make a fetish of paper and glue if what matters is the words.

    Those are big cars for ladies with big bottoms! Do you think the big portions served in American restaurants are a cause or an effect?

    • Not only that, the e-reader is much easier to carry. I recently read The Richard Burton Diaries, a 600+ page monster. I thought I was going to bust my spleen carrying that thing around.But still…

      It’s a mathematical certainty: larger portions begets larger parking spaces. Can anyone deny it?

      • I need to print that and send it to the clowns who design our parking lots…with so many bigger vehicles on the road, why,of why! do they still make such skinny, tight spaces?Oh, I know, it’s an economic measure.
        You know where I stand on the issue of books and children.:-)

      • The parking garages of Manhattan always charge a premium for SUVs and minivans. Not only can my Subaru get in and out of tight spots easily, we get a fat discount when parking. Huzzah!

    • We recently test drove a few cars. My Subaru is getting a little long in the tooth. I tried a few of the big-box cars but I guess I’ve been driving a small car too long. I hated them. From the driver’s seat, the car seemed to go on forever in every direction. I like having a small, mousy car that can zip around corners and fit into tight spaces.

      The daughters will do well despite having me for a dad.

  7. Subaru driver, huh? I didn’t know they’re gay cars. I thought their owners were old hippies, who might now be greenh lefties, who cling to their youth, enjoy the outdoors, or as they age more the idea of the outdoors, and can be seen driving around town with mud spatters, and bikes and ski racks … Oh wait, that’s me! We’re on Subaru number two at our house – and our mechanic says the current one will probably keep us going past retirement!

    The photos of your daughters reading – it’s like looking at contentment and absorption and concentration all at once. My hunch is you’re getting a whole lot right!

    My very favourite parenting memories are of me and our boys in the same room, all reading. It still happens occasionally, when we are on holiday together.

    • I love my Subaru and hate that I feel I have to make excuses for owning one. What’s wrong with me?! I’d buy another one in a minute. They whoop ass in the snow. But the photo I posted makes me feel kind of silly and out of step with everyone out here. Next stop: therapy.

      Here’s a funny aside. I collect books. I have a few bookshelves with big glass doors. The girls have never gone near my collectables. Even as very young babies they didn’t touch them. I had nightmares about coming home and seeing them coloring my ON THE ROAD first edition with crayons. Never happened.

  8. Excursion and Armada. Big deal! 😉 I have a neighbor who has two, yes TWO, Hummers in the garage. It’s disgusting and I always walk my dog by their house at night wishing I had some eggs in my pockets!

    I invite all your blog’s followers over to — my nascent blog on the challenges of fidelity and infidelity. I’d certainly value the insights of all of you folks who comment here on Exile On Pain Street. You have great minds and sharp insights! Thank you!

    • What’s worse than a Hummer? TWO Hummers. I get their appeal but they’re not for me. I doubt my garage can fit one, anyway. And I think the gas mileage is pretty crappy, to boot.

      A nascent blog you say? I will check it out right after I Google “nascent.” And it’s true that my readers have sharp minds, but they also require remuneration to comment. Just so you know.

      • I am laughing, Mark. Here I am thinking your readers are inspired to comment because of your inspired writing and cogent observations. Now that I know shekels are involved….well, I feel deflated.

        Keep on keepin’ on, and congratulations on the outstanding job you’re doing with those precious daughters.

  9. I love second-hand book stores. I love the garage sale randomness of it and the idea that these have been read and loved (or not) and then passed on. Books are expensive for the average person, and unlike, say, a CD, there’s a likelihood it will be enjoyed only once. So: used book and reading vs no book and no reading. Lorrie Moore has a new collection of stories out. But it’s 30 bucks hardcover. I’ll at least wait for the paperback. Or the library. Or used. Although, kids, Father’s Day is coming…

    • Ross, you should add Queenan’s book to your reading list. You’d love it, I’m sure. I, too, am stuck for buying hardcovers. Not only are they expensive, but I carry books on my commute and paperbacks fit into my bag much easier than a fat hardcover. Plus, hardcovers are hard to hold up in bed. My arms get tired.

      I never, ever, purchase anything of Amazon. Amazon destroyed something very important to me–bookstores. They used to be a plethora of small, independent bookstores when I got to New York. Amazon killed them all. Bastards. I’m only one small man but it’s my protest.

  10. “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend.
    Inside of a dog, it is too dark to read.”
    – Groucho Marx

    we traded in our ford Explorer for a CRV. I already miss the bigger ride. Say what you will against larger cars, but if there’s an accident, I want my wife to be the one who’s going to walk away from it.

    • The fact that you can quote Marx (Groucho) in a comment section is proof of your greatness.

      If that ARMADA smashed into my puny outback (doesn’t even deserve initial cap, much less ALL CAPS) I’d be mincemeat. That’s true and sad.

  11. Ha– you sound like the Boyfran with your anti-SUV rants. I’m with you though. I’ve got mad respect for the subarus of this world……… though I’m a major sucker for anything Land Rover. I justify it by driving over things in parking lots and creating new roads when it suits me. I like knowing that someone will probably make me an ally in the zombie apocalypse just because I have the right vehicle.

    And I love the photos of your daughters reading. That reminds me of myself as a child… my family used to make fun of me because I always had my head in a book while holding another one behind it just in case I finished the first. I wish I still read so voraciously… I’m in the middle of a book right now that’s taking a fair amount of time… though it is fascinating.

    • Boyfran and I should start an anti-SUV rant support group. I’ll bet there’s a lot of us out there. Land Rovers are overpriced, imho. (Until the zombies are approaching. Then they’re a steal.)

      I actually didn’t realize I had been taking pics of my kids reading over the years. I wonder what a therapist would make of that? Don’t you bail out on a him if it’s taking too long? Or do you hang with it no matter what?

      • I tend to keep reading no matter what. And it’s not the book’s fault this time around it’s me and my stupid life and busyness. I should really never be too busy for reading though.

      • Also, I’m guessing that your blog became a tremendous time suck after it blew up. Something had to give and I guess it was pleasure reading. That’s okay. It’s a fair exchange. You don’t know how long your blog’s legendary status will last, but reading will always be with you.

  12. I believe Freud said, “Bigger the auto, smaller the penis.” I do love bookstores and it seems i’m doing a good job in instilling the importance of books and reading and knowledge in general into the boyos, i can’t agree with not buying second hand books, those are some of the best bookstores where i can find the titles that other places won’t carry, of course i have bought books online but only because i tend to read such weird and obscure shit it’s hard to find unless of course i order it at the bookstore but guess where they’re gonna get it from? I do love the hardcover editions though, only of course after i have read it once and really fell in love with it, i get tired of replacing the soft backs when they fall apart from my repeated pulling them out and reading something and shoving them back on the shelf, and these days you have to be really good to even make the shelf or else it’s the large bin, of course now i use the library more, sick of the clutter, besides it’s what a lumpen-prole should do i figure… and don’t beat yourself up about parenting, it’s not a science man it’s an art and i’m constantly fucking up but i keep trying, all you can do. Now it’s back to more demoliton. I do believe i’ve found my calling, i like tearing up floors and walls.

    • Freud? I thought that was Chris Rock. I’m with you on secondhand bookstores. I whiled away many an enjoyable hour in used bookstores. I like the smell of them. Thanks to Amazon, they’ve all been crushed out of existence. A tragic loss. Like when they paved over the old Penn Station in Manhattan to put up a fucking office tower. The parenting gig will either crush me or I’ll crush it. It’s a fairly constant battle, right? I didn’t see it coming but here it is. Thank god I didn’t do this when I was in my 20s, It would have imploded by year seven.

  13. Nicely done, and nicely told… Both of my spawn are readers. We worked at it. Reading to them every night – one-on-one time, parent and child. It stuck…

    Your Subaru is awesome! That is the car i was planning to buy when the Civic died – but i got the Jag instead because i’m kinda douchey. As for the Canyonero’s of Jersey? If you haven’t seen the Simpson’s video, it’s worth a look…

    • Hummm..Jag…Outback…Jag…Outback.

      If you had gone Outback, I’d have had a serious offline conversation with you. But I do love the damn thing. I’d get another one, too. Except maybe with some extra cylinders. This thing is s-l-o-w on the uptake. It’s a big hassle when you’re entering a freeway. I’ll be you have no such problem, do you? But I’ve got more trunk space.

  14. Your daughters are gorgeous and yes you’ve given them a gift they can never lose. Good on you. If you’ve done that, you can’t have screwed up other things too badly. Except, you know, buy a real car already.

    • Hi Trent. Hope you’re well and all that jazz.

      You don’t think I feel the shame? I do! But I got that Subaru for a song. And on more than one occasion, that car pulled us through raging blizzards when other cars had spun out on the median. So there’s that to consider. I don’t think I want an ARMADA, but the Subaru has got to go. Maybe something German.

      • Yup, well and some jazz. Light on the drink. Heavy on airplanes. Bad combination, I think.

        I drive a Honda Civic. I often wonder about driving it unsuspectingly into the back of a Dodge Ram or something, just so that I can have a whizz on someone’s cab. The thoughts we have while stuck in Toronto traffic…

      • A Civic is about as masculine as a Subaru. But you can’t kill those cars! My brother unknowingly ran his Civic on about a teaspoon of oil for quite some time but the engine never locked up.

      • Totally agree, they go forever and hardly give you any trouble. It’s ideal, plus they sip the dead dinosaurs, which I much appreciate.

  15. Great pictures of your kids reading! If yours are anything like mine, if they know I want to take a picture they either do a silly pose, or they duck away from it, so catching them unawares while they’re reading is a good trick!

    I hadn’t thought about the second hand book thing before, but doesn’t the same kind of thing apply to libraries then? The library only buys the book once but it will likely be read by many. The thing is if you’re broke then buying a brand new book can be a fairly big deal and one where you don’t want to risk making a mistake, but maybe if you’ve experienced a particular author by buying one of their books cheap second hand, then you might be willing to pay full price in the future, seeing it as less of a risk. So in that way buying second hand books could help the author long term?

    • Candid photos are the BEST. Not just of kids but adults, too. The naturalness of these pics beats the hell out of their ridiculous posing. My kids to it too. When the camera is turned on them they flash “gang” symbols with their hands. Now, how the hell did THAT happen?!

      It was a clever quote but I’m not buying in to the new-book-only mantra. I’ve whiled away many enjoyable hours in secondhand bookstores. It’s a great way to kill an afternoon and I’m not giving it up. Having said that, I DO tend to buy new books when I am able. He’s got a point worth considering.

  16. The NJ housewives have something in common with SI housewives then- armored tanks! It’s like a military battle in the parking lot picking up the kids from school.

    I meant to mention in the other post, my husband’s father never did anything with him either, other than pay the bills (which I suppose is indeed something). My husband was very uninvolved with the kids for the first ten years or so of out marriage and he honestly didn’t see a problem. He was paying the bills, right?

    In more recent years he had a revelation that he should do stuff with them. He takes them to ortho appointments and to the movies. But in his mind this is an incredible amount of involvement, yet to me it seems paltry. He’s an excellent dad, don’t get me wrong, but it’s surprising for me having come from a background with very involved (but not necessarily kind) parents to see his attitude.

    Though at the end of the day what matters is if you love your kids passionately. Kids can tell whether you just tolerate them, or truly adore them.

    • Oh, this is so funny! In my recent post, I mention that I took my daughter to a Broadway play. It was satisfying and made me happy. I reflected on how my dad never did anything with me. He barely acknowledged my existence. That’s how it was done back then but he really missed out on some joyful moments. We are better off for being more enlightened, in my mind.

  17. I cannot stress enough how deeply I love your brain. Every post makes me think – what a brilliant gift.

    I’m sharing this post with J, who thinks children are either born readers or not. Bull shit, most beloved one.

    Also, I’m quite taken with how your daughter’s hair looks deeply red in the photo where she’s reading Felicity. Felicity was always my favorite American girl, and I’m so happy she’s still around.

    • Thank you for loving my brain. I never thought much of it so that’s nice to hear.

      I’m with you, pal. Children need to be shown the joys of reading. they will respond but someone has to show them down that road in the first place.

      Both of my daughters read the American Girl book. I’m out $200 for two dolls that sat in their rooms ignored. Put a doll on one table and a book on the other and they’ll pick up the book. They’ve always been like that.

      • The book are where it’s at. I always wanted one of the dolls and never got one, but I’ll never forget Felicity breaking the rules to save the horse she loved. She’s definitely the coolest of the girls.

      • Hey Mark, on the topic of books, I took your advice and read “To Kill a Mockingbird” Cool. Oddly enough, the movie was also on TV, so I watched that as well. Very different. I really enjoyed the book and understood why the movie was so different – it would be very hard to use the character of Scout as a movie narrator. That time period when blacks were considered second class citizens and yet were expected to work harder than whites – was very explosive.

        Thanks for the recommendation – it was excellent.

      • Thanks for the ping, Paul. That was the right book at the right time for me. I don’t know what it is about that story that unlocked the ferocious reader in me but I’m glad it did. It changed my life for the better and I’ll always be grateful to Ms. Lee for doing that.

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