“Smart people read books,” I tell my youngest, a 15-year-old who is just starting to appreciate the wonders of the written word, and also the benefits of not being a dumbass.
I take my books in audio form these days, because every time I try to read an actual book I fall asleep. The headphones have enabled me to take in a lot more books each year than I did while napping on the couch. I shoot for 12; last year I hit 15, and this year I’ll do 11.
My daughter and I talk about what she’s been reading — To Kill A Mockingbird this year — and sometimes she asks about what I’m reading. Sometimes.
This year I listened to The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a history of the Dakota apartment building in New York City, The Book Thief, Dune and a few others along those lines.
“The one I’m reading now is about cats,” I tell her. That gets her attention.
“They live in the woods, in like these tribes,” I say. “And they fight and scheme and stuff.”
Here I notice she’s looking at me strangely.
“It’s like Watership Down,” I say, and I can tell she has no idea what I’m talking about.
Instead she grabs my phone and peeks at my audio library.
“Yeah,” she says. “That’s what I thought.”
“What?” I ask.
“That’s the book that all the cat girls in my fourth-grade class used to read,” she says. “You’re reading a book for little girls.”
“No!” I say, my mind flashing back to one shameful teenage summer when I secretly read every single book in the Sweet Valley High canon. “It’s science fiction! It’s like Animal Farm! It’s Tolkien-esque!”
“Whatever you say,” she says. “But during recess, the girls in my class used to put leaves in their hair and pretend they were the cats from the stories.”
“Like Fire Paw and Black Star?”
“Whatever their names are,” she says. “They would talk to each other in meow language.
“You’ll be glad to know there’s a whole series of them,” she continues. “Lots of adventures for your little cat friends.”
“Whatever,” I say, making a mental note about the possibility of more books. “Good literature is for all ages.”
I pause for a moment.
“You can’t tell anyone about this,” I say.
“Don’t worry about that,” she says, and she leaves the room.