Domestic Bliss Report

Motherhood is hard work. If we don't stick together, we'll all fall apart.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

A friend of mine reads Harry Potter.

Maybe more than one, but I don't know. She's in her mid-30's and has five sons, a husband, and a dog. She is an occasional visitor to this blog, so hi if you're reading this! She reads other things besides Harry Potter (kind of has to--she homeschools).
Why, might one ask, does she read them?
She finds the stories interesting. She likes the characters. She thinks they're well-written. But the kicker in my book: her oldest son is reading them.
What does that have to do with anything? Lots. I'll start with some history.

My sister and I would get our book orders from school on the same day. Our mother would have to limit us to three or four books each, or we'd want a dozen. It didn't take us long to combine and find six that we both wanted--it was one of the rare things we could cooperate on. Then, when they would come in (simultaneously again), we'd both have two of the three we'd ordered read by the time the school day ended. It drove my mother nuts.

So we'd take the money we'd earned sorting checks at Dad's accounting business and we'd head to B. Dalton. Or Kmart.

I read some Judy Blume and the assumption was they were all wholesome. She wrote about tough issues that kids dealt with, like sibling rivalry and divorce. Superfudge or Freckle Juice, anyone? Real stuff. Would good ol' Judy write stuff that was inappropriate? Never! Unthinkable! And certainly Norma Klein was right there alongside!

In fourth grade, I read Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great (JB), Blubber (JB), and Tomboy (NK). By fifth, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. [My fifth grade teacher was going to read it to the class, and one of the girls about hyperventilated. I wasn't sure what the big deal was--didn't boys know about menstruation?] But by middle school, there's only so many Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing you can stand, you know? So we struck out for more mature shores.

There was the library. My sister was expert at finding what she shouldn't have and relying on our parents' naivete and ignorance to let it by, thus she talked her way into the Flowers in the Attic series by V.C. Andrews. Seriously. In eighth grade. Since we read most of each other's books anyway, I read them too. Did my mother have a clue what was in them? Not even a little bit.

So when we came home with Forever, Wifey, (JB), Love is one of the Choices, Breaking Up, or It's Okay if You Don't Love Me (NK), for example, did my parents notice? Did it occur to them to wonder what their daughters might be reading? I don't think so. We were also reading our share of "historical romances" and Jackie Collins, to help you round out the list.

Is this intended to be a condemnation of two ridiculously popular writers who probably made thousands of kids feel identified with over the years? No. Do I think they were deliberately contributing to the normalization of fornication epidemic in our society? Nah; I'm not enough of a conspiracy theorist. Is this a diatribe against my own mother, who never once to my knowledge picked up a paperback her daughters were reading and thumbed through it? Not that either.

It's an open letter of praise to my neighbor, for loving her sons enough to know what they're putting in their minds. And it's a public reminder for me, so that when my kids outgrow Dr. Seuss and their Great Illustrated Classics I am still paying enough attention to see what they're reading.


At 11:45 AM, Blogger Jeanne said...

My mother read through books that the English teachers at school were having us read to be certain they were okay,... and if they weren't she marched right in and demanded they be changed or that we (her children) be allowed to read something else.

We were in high school and of course this was all very embarassing for us. And today, I am trying to figure out how I am going to get around this issue, if it ever comes up, without embarassing my own kids too much. Because I am also reading my children's books now. The ones they bring home anyway.

My mother didn't always know what was in my library books either. Sometimes I read them at school within a few hours. Luckily, good morals were instilled in me enough that I knew some of the things in there were wrong.

At 10:09 AM, Blogger Diane said...

My mom never paid any attention to what I was reading; I think she was still floored by the concept that she had a daughter who liked to read at all (since she herself rarely did). I think she was of the opinion that all reading is good. Thus, I got into my grandma's collection of Harlequins and Danielle Steeles in junior high, no questions asked by either Mom or Grandma. Luckily, at an earlier age any inappropriate material was mostly disregarded by my clueless little brain anyway.

By the way, hi :)

At 11:54 AM, Blogger Patrick O'Hannigan said...

My son, age 8, has read most of the Harry Potter books over the last two years. He likes them a lot. I read the first book, thought it was pretty good,and have heard that "Goblet of Fire" is better.

The only thing that gives me pause about J.K. Rowling's fictional world where spells are cast in Latin is that famed excorcist Fr. Gabriel Amworth says Rowling makes one big mistake: per Amworth, there is no disctinction between "black magic" and "white magic."

I'll have to ponder that, as I think he's well within the range of orthodox Christian thought. And Thomas (my son) will probably graduate from Harry Potter to the Lord of the Rings. But as Tolkien had Gandalf say of himself at one under-remarked point in LOTR, "I am a servant of the secret fire." Some commentators consider that a not-so-veiled reference to the Holy Spirit.

At 8:29 AM, Blogger The Mom With Brownies (The story of us) said...

"Hi" right back at ya Heather.

I've just read your post and smiled quite a bit. :-)

I do enjoy reading the boys' books. It's the talks that follow I enjoy much more. The fact that my teenaged son will sit for the better part of an hour to talk, eye to eye, with his mom (me), really kicks me into high gear to read his books. I do have to say that it is a definite plus that they are enjoyable books.

Thank you for the good thoughts my friend. :-)

At 12:54 PM, Anonymous Rebekah Fox said...

You're absolutely right. I'm not a mom (or married) yet, but my younger sisters are homeschooled and I keep track of what they read. It's no hardship to them, because I can polish off a 500 page book in under five hours, and most books they choose are shorter than that. I plan to do the same when I have kids. There's so much crap out there, and I wish some of it hadn't found its way into my own head.

My sisters (who are 14 and 16) like having me to look out for them, and we can discuss our favorites later. The youngest loves true crime (as do I), so very often she'll find a book that's inappropriate in places. If it's not completely unredeemable, I'll section off the bits she should skip and let her read the rest. It works out great.

At 4:44 PM, Anonymous Heather said...

Hi, Diane! I'll say I don't remember Harlequins and Danielle Steeles as being as... well... explicit as some of the other stuff. And I think my mom was similar in thought to yours: all reading is good.

And Rebekah Fox, YOU still have to subject yourself to that stuff to protect your younger sisters. I realize you're more mature and can better recognize garbage when you read it, which helps.

I wonder if the success of the DVC is related to our culture's intellectual decline...


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