One busy day in the store recently, I rounded a corner to the endearing tableau of three little boys intently reading a book together, along with one of the store’s companionable dragons.
I loved this so much, the simple face-to-face connection, the way one book can bring people together. While this isn’t an unusual sight at the bookstore — families and friends look at books together all the time — these little guys’ absorbed, shared attentiveness went straight to my heart.
We often think of reading as a solitary act, but really it is often most delightful shared (hence book clubs!). We all realize that picture books are meant to be shared, but so are books for older readers. I’ll never forget the gentle, magical sound of my mother’s voice reading The Hobbit and The Smith of Wootten Major, both by Tolkien, to my sister and me. Having a story read to one is luxurious, comforting, and joyful, and I don’t think we ever outgrow it.
When Katherine Paterson visited the Flying Pig recently, she told the audience a story about her now-grown daughter, Mary, who, back in the day, was going through a rough patch at the age of 17. Mary had enumerated, as teens are wont to do, all the ways her mother had failed her. At the end of the list, Katherine said, her daughter had added, outraged, “And you never READ to me anymore!” It was an eye-opener even to an author who was in the midst of a legendary career writing for young people; she had assumed that her fluently reading, nearly adult daughter might be past reading together. What a surprise and a moving delight that she wasn’t.
Two days after I snapped that quick shot of the boys at the bookstore, my sister returned home from her Thanksgiving travels with a box of old photos our uncle had passed along to her, and among them was this picture. Though it was taken almost fifty years ago, it seems like a perfect companion piece to the one at the top of this post.
That’s me on the left, sharing something funny from my Snow White storybook with my sister and my cousin. We are giggling. We are happy. We are connected by a book.
Reading together, even reading one’s own book, solo, near friends and family members who are also reading books of their own, is such a deep and nourishing pleasure. One of our Black Friday customers explained the reason for the stack of 30 books she was buying that day. “There’s a tradition in Iceland,” she told us, “where everybody gives books on Christmas Eve, and they unwrap them and spend the evening sitting around reading together. Everyone I know is getting a book this year, and they’re going to open them on Christmas Eve and read.”
I’m not sure how I missed hearing about that tradition, but I’m embracing it.