Posted by: zhiv | January 23, 2008

My Reading and My Kids: on Literary Parenting

This is a quick post to explain a little more background.  I have two kids.  My daughter is 17 and was just accepted early decision at a great small college.  My son is 13 and in 8th grade.

A lot of my reading over the past, say 10-12 years has been prompted by following along with what my kids are doing and studying.  It seems like I didn’t read much when I was a kid, but I think my interest in biography and history began pretty early.  I suppose I just didn’t get fiction somehow.  I kind of liked Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but I couldn’t get to the end of a book without tremendous effort, and it seems like somehow I was unable to hold an entire story in my head for some reason.  It was just a development issue I guess.  A little later, I remember Julius Caesar as a 10th grade English assignment and I was unable to figure out a single sentence–the whole thing was completely opaque to me.  It’s like I wasn’t even present in the class, though I know that I was there.  Very strange.  I mention the weird Caesar/Shakespeare experience because my son is reading the play now for school, so chances are that it will come up again.  I’ll probably read it–that’s what I’m saying, this is part of how “literary parenting” works, or at least my version of it.

Another thing I remember about my own childhood reading is that there weren’t a whole lot of books around.  My mother was a librarian (she’s retired now), so the idea was that we had library access to anything we needed.  The result, however, was that I had very few books of my own.  And I didn’t think of reading as something to do with my spare time, let alone getting my schoolwork done, until much later, when I was in college.

So there was a big body of children’s literature out in the world that I have read along with my kids, since I missed it the first time around.  And now, as they’ve gotten older, they’re getting into some really good stuff.  Along the way I’ve wanted to push their interests and find things for them that might be interesting.   I know this is vague, but I’m just trying to make the point that a significant part of my reading is prompted by or relates to what my kids are studying.  But the intriguing part is that I’ve used this “system” of literary parenting to find large literary-historical areas that I knew very little about.

Let me give a couple of specific examples.  My daughter started studying Latin in 7th grade.  I made her choose Latin, for a variety of reasons.  As that process began, I discovered that I knew almost nothing about the Romans.  I knew about Greek philosophy and Homer and Virgil, but that was it, more or less.  So through my daughter starting Latin, I read about the Romans and the ancient world at a fairly steady clip for the last six years.

The other specific category that I want to mention is women authors.  I had ready my Jane Austen, Brontes, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf.  I think I’d do pretty well on one of those women authors lists:  not great, but I’d probably do okay.  But  more recently I’ve gone to the next level, I would say, reading Cather, Wharton, Jewett, and Schreiner.  And this is how I get to my first book post.   

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