Friday, August 11

Parents and Books

Until the time I was about sixteen I held the horribly sexist belief that my father was a literary man and my mother just read silly detective novels. In some ways it wasn’t really my fault. The image I had of my father sitting on the couch, listening to Bach with a copy of The Magic Mountain in his lap and a bottle of Drambuie close by was not that far from reality. Though, in a strange way I think I somehow crafted this image of my father around the person that I thought he wanted to be rather the person he actually was.

I viewed my mother as the person who kept the house in order, broke up fights between my brother and I, and sometimes snuck off to read escapist mystery stories. Again, this image was not far from reality, but in this case I didn’t seem to take into account the person I thought my mother wanted to be—I had no idea what she wanted to be, my view of her was too narrow. My mother struggled to work books into her busy schedule and opted for quick escapism because that was the best therapy after the many hectic days. My father struggled to work his kids into his busy schedule and opted for classical music and literature as a way to escape from a different sort of reality.

As I’ve mentioned numerous times on my blog, one of the great joys of my maturity has been the discovery that my father and I share similar taste in both films and books. What I have failed to mention is the growing relationship between my mother and I that is based on talking about films and books. While my father and I share a similar fascination with figures like Kafka, Hesse, Bergman and Buñuel, we very rarely, if ever, discuss their work. Meanwhile, my mother and I have shared many enjoyable phone conversations recently about the films I’ve been watching and the books I’ve been reading. I introduced her to David Mitchell’s novels and she’s taken a great interest in them. When I was home around Christmas we had a long discussion about Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly that I will not soon forget. Just the other day we chatted about Joan Didion.

Through these conversations I have learned a tremendous amount about my mother. It saddens me that it has taken so long for me to connect with my mother in this way. It was always just kind of accepted that my dad was the renaissance dude and we would defer to him on most things cultural. But the fact is that while my father has a tremendous memory for character and plot, he rarely seems willing to share his honest opinion on books. With some coaxing I’ve seen it done, but I’m hardly the person that should be coaxing others to open up. When I read my father’s copies of his favorite books I invariably find several pages bookmarked. I find myself wanting to know why and I try to figure it out on my own. I am rarely able to get inside of his head, and I rarely ask him to let me in.

These days my mother is the literary one and my father is the mystery. My parents haven't changed (at least not in any fundamental way) my approach has changed. I am no longer a simple observer of my parents' images, I am now an active participant in the decoding of those images.

(You know, I’m not sure whether this type of thing is of interest to Book-Loopers. It was sort of caught in-between this blog and the other one so I just deposited it here. I apologize if I have bored you.)

1 comment:

Bryan said...

Fascinating stuff.

Don't worry about this happening too late, just enjoy it now.