A Look On The Lighter Side: Reading is right, daytime or night

Judy Epstein

Whenever I fear being stuck in a lengthy blackout — as I expected to be the other day with a hurricane approaching — I take what has now become my standard set of precautions. I gas up the car, I make sure I have fresh batteries in the house for every lantern and I bring out my stack of read-aloud-by-lantern-light books.

This time, with both our grown sons actually stuck at home between adventures, as soon as our lights flickered I opened the top-most book and began to read:

“Chapter One: Tom Plays, Fights, and Hides.
No answer.
No answer.
“What’s gone with that boy, I wonder? You, TOM!”
No answer.
The old lady pulled her spectacles down and looked over them about the room….”

“Mom, stop!” demanded my younger son. “That’s the exact same thing you read to us last blackout — and the one before that.”

“Yes, and we know it’s ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,’ ” continued the older son, “and we know it’s a classic by Mark Twain, but we’ve never yet made it out of Chapter One! Can’t we please read something else for a change?”

“OK,” I said, ever agreeable. I picked up the very next thing in reach: “Important Battery Charger Safety Instructions: Danger! To reduce the risk of fire or electric shock… ”

“I’ll take that,” said my husband as he pulled the flimsy sheet from my hand.

“In that case,” I replied, “maybe I shouldn’t start reading at all. Maybe we should just talk about what we’d like to be reading, if we could.”

“You mean texts from our friends who aren’t texting because they’re saving their battery life?”

“No, I mean books! What were your favorite books for bedtime reading? When you were little? For example,” I turned to my husband, “what was your favorite book?”
“Well, I did like the Signetics Data Book on the 7400 TTL Logic series of logic chips.”

“What on earth was that?”

“It was a compendium of all the data sheets for the TTL chips.”

“My mistake. I meant books in the English language!”

“Mom, you start. What did YOU like, when you were a kid?”

“I loved Lewis Carroll’s books, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass,’ ” I told my boys. “Their backwards illogic explains more of life than you’d think. And so many great characters! There was Humpty Dumpty and the Red Queen, and Tweedledee and Tweedledum besides Alice, of course.”

“And the Mad Hatter?”

“Exactly. I loved other books, too. One was ‘The Secret Garden,’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett, about children in Yorkshire, England. Growing up, I often wished for a door, hidden under ivy, to a secret garden where I could play with my friends. Alas, all I ever found under ivy was more ivy and itchiness and then brick.”

“What’s this one?” asked my husband, picking another book from my stack.

“Oh, you’d like that. You know how I keep losing things around the house? Maybe it’s not my fault at all! In that book — Mary Norton’s ‘The Borrowers’ — there are little people the size of mice, who hide in regular people’s houses and make their own furnishings from things like matchboxes and hatpins. So whenever you can’t find something, maybe I haven’t lost it — maybe it’s just been ‘borrowed.'”

“That’s a good one,” scoffed my life’s partner.

“Mom, why is there nothing by Tolkien?” one of my sons asked me. “Why didn’t you read us ‘The Lord of the Rings?’ or even ‘The Hobbit’?”

“Oh, those were too long and too bloody,” I answered. “Besides — I figured if we had to learn a whole big mythology, with lots of weird names, we’d be better off learning a real one.”

“What do you mean, a ‘real’ mythology?” asked the other son.

“You know — like the ones with Greek gods and goddesses or else Norse ones.”

“So one set of imaginary beings is more real than another?”

“Hey! Is this a nighttime reading session or a philosophy seminar? Anyway, here’s one book I think we can all agree on,” I said, pulling a volume from mid-stack.

“Harry Potter!” we all said in unison.

“Remember you used to read us from Harry Potter every night, Mom? And how Dad took over, whenever you had to go out? But I don’t think he stuck to the script or whatever it’s called; there were more spies in the story somehow the nights that he was reading.”

My husband’s guilty grin went from ear to ear. Seems as if our nighttime reading fostered at least one person’s creativity!

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Judy Epstein

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