Tuesday, June 13, 2006

EX LIBRIS

Yesterday, Rosie unloaded the contents of my lowest bookshelves while I frantically rifled through my students' essays and packed my briefcase for the evening class. She was quick, quiet about it--uncharacteristic of her usual boisterous exploits. My initial response was one of annoyance--empty shelves to dust--stacks of books to clean up. The older two children had vanished into the pack of neighborhood children on the street behind ours. I doled out their kisses, slathered them with sunblock, and sent them off--collapsing against the doorframe as they blended into the wild, delighted group.

It wasn't so very long ago that this house was overrun by infants day and night. Their soft voices, learning the language around them...the stacks of impossibly tiny diapers...seamless days spiraling out one after another from the burst of sunrise to the gentle sparking of dusk. Now--their lives are ruled all year by school bells and crisp assignments, neat rows of desks and chalk-dusted clothes. Summers of running over the neighbor's lawns and hiding in tree-forts...my voice tethering them to the Earth calling their names for lunch--dinner--bedtime. I remember this so well from my own catalogue of memories.

Rosie is the baby--the last to fly the nest. I catch sight of her thick fingers piling the books up and turning pages. She is silent, curiously regarding the letters on the page. Books bulge beneath her new "big-girl" undies where she sits "reading". They form collapsing towers all around her and she is mesmerized.



Instead of scolding her for the mess, I sit down in the fortress of words and start reading random passages from random books. I read with my daughter's fierce interest and passion--and lack of attention to detail. I am reminded again of Anne Fadiman's book, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, and the "ancestral castles" of her own childhood. She also speaks of a sensuous "carnal love" of books--the kind where pages are bent and torn, or swollen from accidental bathtub water, the kind where ink underlines whole sections of text, and coffee stains line the margins.

My baby, with her fist full of pages, her upended sippy cup, and her haphazard collection of books is a lover in this purest sense. I could pull her down from her perch and clean the shelves and restore order. I could insist she leave my books alone and permit only board books until she learns the reverent, "proper" way of handling them. I could tell her "no" in that tone of voice mothers of two year olds know the world over--but, I am busy reading in an ardent, book-worshipping heap beside her. Fadiman notes, "The courtly loving book mode simply doesn't work with small children," (42), and she is right. Around here, books become living, breathing members of the family, or the heavily reinforced walls of one toddler's imagined city.

For today, we are a pair of trespassers on the sacred reserve of the "proper reader". Soon, this child will board a big yellow bus with her brother and sister...will vanish into Summer days and nights--leaving me to my profane love of books in lonely solitude. All she'll leave for me will be her fingerprints--bright and sticky over every page.


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23 Comments:

Blogger Dana said...

Oh my. This is such a gorgeous post. How wonderful for you to share this moment with us and to write about it so beautifully.

I wish I'd had books around when I was a child. Sadly, out household was pretty much free of them. I remember pretending to read the TV guide, both the print version and the TV channel dedicated to listing upcoming programs. (I wasn't 2 years old, though. I was older ~ whatever age kids are when they start to remember their own lives.)

10:25 AM  
Blogger Laini Taylor said...

Hooray for you! Books shouldn't be sacred treasures kept out of reach... (but that's easy for me to say, I know I will guard my children's book collecton from sticky fingers until a certain age) Your sticky fingers comment reminded me of this bittersweet quote, I can't find where I wrote it down or who it's by, but it's something about how the fingerprints on the wall get a little higher every day, then gradually disappear altogether.

10:34 AM  
Blogger paris parfait said...

Beautiful, awesome post! I love the way you write and how you're encouraging the love of reading in little Rosie. And what a gorgeous photo!

Years from now, you'll look back at any sticky fingers or other childhood markings on your books and smile, remembering.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Amber said...

That last line was just perfect! How true that is. I was freaking out when G pulled down all my books, but now i just moved different ones to the bottom. This post makes me think how thankful I would be if she developed the love I have for books... I will let her have her way. The way I used to have with my grandma's books. Would I have opened up the pages of The Hobbit at ten, and discovered the magic of the written word, if I had been shushed away? I want that for her.

Your baby girl is a sweet-pea! We both have little girls about the same age.

:)

11:47 AM  
Blogger January said...

It's nice that even these moments when kids play with books, we show them our love for books. Sticky fingers an all.

Wonderful post and beautiful picture of Rosie!

12:06 PM  
Blogger ESB said...

this is pure poetry....and my heart welled up at the last sentence.

your girl is BEAUTIFUL....what a doll. what a great picture....

12:19 PM  
Blogger Mardougrrl said...

Oh my gosh, I LOVED this post! I too love my books not wisely but all too well, and I hope to pass that along to Madam when she is ready. She's already fascinated by Mommy's obvious focus on her books. I can't wait to read with her.

12:43 PM  
Anonymous Diana said...

Another great post. This is a wonderful topic.

1:19 PM  
Blogger deirdre said...

. . .sensuous "carnal love" of books--the kind where pages are bent and torn, or swollen from accidental bathtub water, the kind where ink underlines whole sections of text, and coffee stains line the margins. I love this. I don't read as much as I used to, really not much at all, and it makes me sad. It seems I've let life and its busy-ness get in the way of what I truly love, have always found comfort in. I've rearranged my work pace to include a lunch break (25 years of slamming down lunch in 15 mins. or less is soooo over), and plan to bring a book to linger over while I eat. Love has to be nurtured.

1:57 PM  
Blogger tracey said...

I could just fall into a heap and cry my eyes out. That was heartbreakingly beautiful. And that photograph is perfect.
Waaaaah.
Thank you for sharing. Big heavy sigh.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Kim G. said...

She's off to a great start . . . the world awaits her. Your words were perfect to show exactly how she must have looked surrounded by the books. Makes me want to find a corner and surround myself with my favorites as well!

7:21 PM  
Blogger AscenderRisesAbove said...

awww; look how sweet that photo is; that is a real keeper. Thanks for the memories of 'big girls'. sigh.

7:52 PM  
Blogger silverlight said...

Bbeleive it or not, chilgren 2yrs old can learn to read, if one takes the time and the child has interest. Also, if a baby can learn sign language-----
A friend of mine, her oldest son learned to read just watching tv. The kindergarten teachers were floored when he was old enough to attend.

3:27 AM  
Blogger sheela said...

this is just wonderful - beautifully written, and a memory that you'll want to keep forever.

5:08 AM  
Blogger Susannah said...

that picture of Rosie made me instantly broody! and she is as beautiful as her mummy - and will no doubt be a bookworm like her too... I was working at Penguin Books when Ex Libris was published in the UK - i remember doing all the publicity for it... i've just pulled my copy off the shelf and will look through it again tonight - just what i needed... books *are* our family, i agree
Sx

6:16 AM  
Anonymous Jennifer (she said) said...

There is so much on your site that I haven't read lately because I've decided to limit my blogging. Now that I'm here, I see so much that i want to think about. Since one of my blogging/life goals is to really pay attention and slow down I just wanted to tell you that I am going to take a day to read and think about what you've offered here recently. And then I'll post. There's just so much to consider, and I want to do that well. Thank you for everything I've read so far.

1:09 PM  
Blogger andrea said...

This made me cry. You are such an amazing writer and I feel so honorerd and blessed every time I visit. Your daughter is adorable. Beautiful!
You touched a nerve as I am dealing with the same issue right now. How is it that our hearts are so easily broken over our children getting older. You put it down to paper perfectly.
Thank you.
a.

10:05 AM  
Blogger wordgirl said...

I read Anne Fadiman's book and it's every bit as excellent as you say. Good post.

9:06 AM  
Anonymous motherhooduncensored said...

What a lovely way to describe the simple pleasures in life - books.

My daughter loves them - and may she always.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Crazy MomCat said...

Well deserving of a Perfect Post award. Congrats! I'm glad I stopped by for this one...

2:08 PM  
Blogger cmhl said...

beautiful post!!!

6:52 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

This is beautiful - Tracey has excellent taste.

4:09 PM  
Blogger daysgoby said...

This is amazing.

Thank you - this was a perfect post.

Your daughter is gorgeous.

12:04 PM  

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