I Will Book No Complaint…

My oldest sister and I got to emailing about books. She recommended Children of Ash and Elm, an exceptionally engaging history of the Viking Golden Age, by Neil Price. This tome caught her eye  because the author is such a protean thinker. He’s interested in everything from the maritime Silk Road (never heard of such a thing), to the Viking diaspora (never heard of that either), to paradigms of piracy (who knew?), to the socio-political ramifications of opium addiction then and now, to… Yikes already!

I passed along to my sister one of my favorite books, Being a Beast, by Charles Foster, because he strikes me as having the same sort of enormous, busy, elastic mind as Mr. Price. Foster is a lawyer, veterinarian, and PhD expert on medical ethics. He synthesizes all that stuff through the lenses of various wild species, and comes up with an eloquent prayer for the planet and for his own species.

This ability to leap across apparently unrelated topics and find connections just awes the livin’ peedywhaddles out of me. This is vision and creativity and insight. I marvel at such gifts and wish the people who have them long, joyous, well documented (and well compensated) careers.

The discussion with my sister led me to remark that our own father had often insisted that the life of the mind was the one most profitably cultivated, because it was “all you’re left with,” in the end. This was a guy who was still sitting on PhD committees into his eighties, and who was winning cribbage games the day he died at age 96.

I honestly found that comment a little sad–Dad, what about the love? What about the love for those of us who don’t get to keep our minds until the end? What about the love from my two sisters, who upended their lives to look after you and Mom when you couldn’t look after yourselves? You were left with that too, Ph-Dude.

But I also realized that never once–not one time in my whole life–had I heard either of my parents complain of boredom. They were both always reading. Mom read “good books,” Dad read science, science, and more science. Time and National Geographic were scattered around the house from my infancy. For two people who didn’t travel much beyond the Lower 48, my parents went on many literary flights. I’m sure there’s much they could have whinged and whined about, but their choice was to stay interested in the greater world, and creatively nourished with reading material.

Through books and reading and other people, they were fascinated by the wonders of creation rather than by the temptation to  lament Mom’s rheumatiz or Dad’s research funding problems. I need to give them credit for that example, both as it relates to having a constructive outlook, and as it relates to feeding the soul with the written word. They got that spectacularly right, and I have had both a bearable pandemic and a delightful livelihood to show for it. As we approach the Mother’s Day and Father’s Day observances: Thanks, Mom and Dad for the books and the good example.

Two questions: What did you or your parents get right, without any fanfare or drama? Also: Read any good books lately? To two commenters, I’ll send signed copies of the very pretty large print edition of How to Catch a Duke. The books are surprisingly lightweight and compact, and I do like that cover!

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14 comments on “I Will Book No Complaint…

  1. Fanfare? Drama? My parents? Well, there was a big bit of that because both were performers by profession (Mom was an opera singer and Dad was a dancer–ballet and tap)so there was always a smidge. But I think they had strategies handling a few things that were quite matter-of-fact.

    Like your parents, I never recall either of them claiming they were bored. They read, watched a lot of television (my Dad actually was on TV and produced a few local shows)and the news—wow, did they watch the news, of course after they read both morning papers and both evening papers (now our city has only two morning papers and no evening papers). There was always something to be done on our old house, built in the 1890s, so every weekend seemed to have a small project.

    I only recall saying I was bored once or twice around my parent during the summers when I was a teenager. I made the mistake of bemoaning being bored on a glorious summer Saturday afternoon within earshot of Mom–her strategy with bored kids was to find something for them to do such as weed, dust all the pretties in the dining room china cabinet or wash windows—the woman had a LIST prepared! So, you better not mention you were bored or look bored (one of my sisters made that mistake)or she would put you to work. Dad would suggest you read something by Charles Dickens or Leo Tolstoy (two of his favorite authors) hand you a book and tell you he expected to discuss it with you the next day. With six kids, this whole *bored thing* was something they had down pat and I think it worked!

    I have been re-reading “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” and I don’t know why. I started reading a scene or two a night a few weeks ago. I am a huge Shakespeare fan and this isn’t even my favorite play but one I thought I understood. Now that I’m slowly reading it, the different layers and details I’ve missed (despite taking three Shakespeare courses as an undergrad, studying this play in depth in one of them)seem clearer. I think I’ll continue to read another play after this one the same way. It’s been a real mind stretcher to read it slowly.

  2. Both of my parents worked. I don’t ever remember them saying they were bored. I think they were too busy!
    My father cooked dinner on Sundays and the five of us sat together around the table. As we got older and worked or went to college- he made an effort to have a family meal each week. It was important to him that we spend time together.
    Sunday supper is important to me as well. Sometimes, the meal shifts to Saturday or Wednesday but, I feel the three of us need to sit down and enjoy a meal at least once a week.
    Books- I loved Madeline Martin’s The Last Bookshop in London and Elizabeth Thompson’s Lost in Paris.

  3. I honestly don’t remember anything specific except that they allowed me to read everything from a young age (I read my mother’s copy of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” at age 7) and they had 5 kids in less than 6 years, with no multiples, so we always had somebody to play with. I actually told my niece recently that her children have “no imagination” because they’re complaining they’re bored during the pandemic. I reminded her that we managed to grow up without the smart phones, tablets, and computers that they all have and somehow weren’t bored. I suggested reading but they didn’t want to! I despair of the younger generation (not really).

    Anyway, a good friend last year recommended “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles and I found it delightful. I also read through all of Sir Terry Pratchett’s DiscWorld books last year and loved them (I adore puns so that helps) though it was disheartening to read about things that are still a problem today, so many years after his books were written (and Happy Birthday to him this week, too).

  4. My mom taught me to read by reading aloud to me. She said she realized I could read at age two when she inadvertently skipped a word and I seized her finger and dragged it back to the word she’d skipped. She then tested me with a book she hadn’t read to me yet and I stumbled through enough for her to realize I hadn’t memorized my regulars to parrot back to her. After that, Little Golden Books were a part of our weekly supermarket shopping list and we would scour the rack in frustration when I’d read them all until the next batch of new offerings came out. The manager of the A&P knew us on sight!

    She also taught me not to fear the creatures of creation by festooning me with everything from red eyed cicadas to Daddy Longlegs to the indigo racer in the corn crib at Aunt Laura’s house. Plus the gratitude for the bounty of farm animals. I have a nodding acquaintance with churning butter & mounding it, carding wool, candling eggs and tacking up + hitching a mule to a single blade plow. Eastern Kentucky was likewise pretty wild in the days of wells & outhouses.

    Dad added to this by teaching me respect for the dangerous varieties- how to ID poisonous snakes, Portuguese Men of War on the beach (plus the cure for the welts caused by their tentacles of peeing on them so the ammonia would counteract the chemical burn), the importance of holding a gator’s snout closed as all the muscles went to the chomp, not the open. How to tell a salt water croc from a gator (Florida was still wilderness in those days before A/C & bulldozers) and the importance of releasing any fish not prime eating size or females in spawning season so there’d be more.

    Both were insatiable readers. Daddy time was sitting beside him in the sofa to watch the nightly news when he came home from work. He explained everything during the commercials or after, when we would turn to the evening papers to explore business and international stories. He took subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal and assorted magazines beyond the National Geographic.

    His philosophy was “When you stop learning, you’re dead.” When I complained of a boring teacher, he turned me into a nuisance by advising, “Don’t sit back and wait for them to spoon feed you. It’s your job to reach down their throats, crack open their skulls, and rip every scrap of knowledge out of them. You’ll never again have the opportunity to do nothing but eat, sleep and learn, so never waste a moment.” Soon after, the teachers started to cringe when my hand went up & I got a lecture on letting the others have a chance. *snort*

    Finally, Dad imparted his singular world view based on circumnavigating the globe six times as a navigator in prop planes in the days before instrument flying courtesy of WWII. He taught me:
    “If it’s naked, clothe it.
    If it’s hungry, feed it.
    If it’s homeless, build one.
    If it’s lonely, love on it.
    If you’re lost in a strange place and don’t speak the language, find the nearest holy place. It’s your best chance of finding those with learning to help you.
    All of the world’s great religions are based on these simple rules. The confusion comes from people cluttering up the message with their add ons. If they’d pay more attention to getting the basics right, we wouldn’t have to deal with politicians and wars.”

    Smart people, my parents. I hope to live up to their example some day.

  5. I was encouraged to enjoy books at a young age,my parents did not read many books they worked very hard on the farm and relaxed at the weekend by reading newspapers and magazines.My dad heard me saying once during the schools summer break that I was bored.He took me outside and fetched me a wooden vegetable box and handed it to me.I asked what for ,his reply– “to sit on!!” ,I just looked at him.Then he explained ” you Will go to the upper field and join the women sit on the box and pick the pea pods and ponder on what you have said.The shift finished at 4 pm.Dad asked me what had I learned– my reply—-next time I will take a cushion when I sit on that box my bums sore he laughed and said “so you will help on the farm again?. “yes I stated and I will never say I am bored again.A lesson learned at eleven years old.

  6. My parents got the love right! My parents raised kind and caring kids… we all express it differently, but it is there.

    Of late, I don’t have any non-fiction reading in my brain box… except, I have gotten a couple art books… but I just looked at the pictures. *whoops face and shrug

    PS – I really like the recover of “Mary Fran and Matthew”!!! The colors and the Scottish castle are just beeeeeautiful. 😀

  7. My parents were both readers as well – dad not so much as mom bookwise since he worked so many hours. Now my father reads much more including a lot of romances! Yes, I share books with my father when possible. Long distance makes it more difficult and sadly, he has an adversion to ebooks and computers in general. I am happy and proud to say that reading is one of the best things I passed on to my kids. If you can read, everything is better.

    Another thing my parents passed on is the joy of raising fresh veggies and fruits. The pandemic coupled with my ‘early retirement’ made it possible for us to have a veggie garden again. It is small, but raised beds make it easier on my neck and back. My father still plants and maintains a large garden even though he needs help occasionally. He enjoys giving away the surplus produce as much as he enjoys growing it. I am thankful that both my children also manage to grow some herbs and veggies in pots on the porches of their apartments. I’m even more thankful that they both love cooking and using what they can grow.

    As far as good books, I finished my ecopy of How to Catch a Duke last night! I loved Stephen and Abigail’s story!

  8. My parents also gave me the gift of reading, the best gift imaginable, I’ve always thought.
    Books are such a part of my life that I can’t remember learning to read: it’s just been there. Reading is solace, learning, being prompted to new POVs, new vistas, new opportunities. It’s never being lonely, forever being entertained and delighted.
    And libraries – don’t get me started! They’re part of trip research for me (and please, may the day be here soon for trips once again!) because they are fascinatingly different, country to country, and yet similar; you know you’re amongst friends in a library.

  9. I recently enjoyed A Duke Never Forgets by Bianca Blythe.

    My parents encouraged my love of reading and emphasized the importance of education. They were also great at listening to big and little things I had to say. I have tried to follow their example with my own children.

  10. My parents listened, too, and didn’t say much. You might be asked to fold laundry with Mom or dust shelves in the pharmacy with Dad, but they listened.

    Mom, particularly, tried to ensure differentiation among us. We didn’t have the same piano instructors, we didn’t play the same instruments and where possible, we had different teachers at school. We may have worn hand-me-downs and thrift store clothes, but we had our own shoes. They also didn’t snoop through “our” stuff.

    I haven’t been able to read much besides a few HEA authors this last year, but I look for Helen Sullivan’s byline at The Guardian.

  11. My mother was a reader of so many different types of books. Nonfiction of all stripes, classics of literature, contemporary literature, and genre fiction. She took my brother and me to the library all the time and we are both readers. She loved us unrelentingly, and I certainly tested her patience!

    My father just loved. He was a steelworker who wasn’t afraid to tell us how much he loved us; a man who cried with pride over his children’s accomplishments; a man who never met a stranger. He wasn’t a reader. He couldn’t dance or sing, but he knew how to love with his whole heart.

  12. My Dad was an engineer and my Mom was an artist. Dad was a whiz with Math. When I complained that I really didn’t like advanced Algebra in High School, he said “nonsense, you are a Bancroft, all the Bancroft’s are great in Math”. I never liked that answer. Mom on the other hand was the winner of a City Wide academic award when she left the 8th Grade to move on to high school. There 5 elementary schools that all went to 8th grade and the same award was given to one child in each school. My mom got it for her school. Truly, she was brilliant. BUT she was an artist. My Dad’s family had many great artists, and even one of them was married to an artist that was friends with and taught by Charles Burchfield.(a WNY artist of much acclaim) I quickly learned Artists see the world very differently than engineers. This made for a contentious marriage with many emotional ups and downs, however, as children we saw two parents who were aligned in making sure their three children learned about the arts and also about math and science. We all played an instrument, we all played golf, we all were not allowed to watch TV on School nights after dinner because that time was reserved for homework. These rules were set in stone. We took a two week family vacation every summer and went camping all over the Eastern Seaboard and into Canada. We had dinner at 5:30 every night as a family when Dad got home from work. If there was anger or frustration between them it was loud and ugly, to the point that I wondered if they ever loved each other, and by the next day, they made up and hugged and kissed. I guess they both showed us excelling in academics was important, and that if you believed in your heart that you had been wronged you should not back down. They also showed us that people in marriages could fight but they could also forgive. I have been married to the same man for 43 years, and I will say my marriage can be infrequently noisy too, but I can happily say, we routinely tell each other how thankful we are. I guess we can thank our parents for that.

  13. I can appreciate my parents as smart, hard working, and well-intentioned people but they were horrible parents. They did teach us to value education, that has been an important value in my life. For my own parenting one thing I have gotten right is that we have one on one time at bedtime (alternating nights so every night each kid has a turn with one parent) reading books aloud (even my high school senior still loves this) and catching up on the day, snuggling and figuring out the next day’s schedule.

    It isn’t a new book, but The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish is worth a read or two. It is partially epistolary (which is my personal weakness) and chock full of historical details (another weakness). I loved it.