Obviously, we like books. The name of the website makes that pretty clear. Our houseful of books that extend two and three deep along the hallway to our bedrooms makes it more clear. The kids’ secret bookroom built into the eve of the house makes it really clear. The books in the bathroom, on the kitchen table, under the bed, beside the chair, and sometimes even outside on the porch make it abundantly clear. We like books.
And that also means that we like homes for books – places like bookstores and libraries. More precisely, we love bookstores and libraries. If you were to go through our family photo albums of recent years you would see some particularly peculiar pictures mixed in with the normal shots of holiday events and family gatherings and music programs and goofy iphone pics taken for no definable reason at all. The peculiar photos would be of bookstores.
The girls and I started this adventure of trying to find bookstores in whatever town we were visiting on short Saturday trips around town or longer extended vacations out of town. We have found many and all have been an adventure.
I remember one that we found in a small town in west Texas that was painted entirely in pink, both inside and out, and was downright scary. It smelled of about a thousand cats and its tables and bookshelves were so packed that you had to dig through the rubble of books just to see what was there. It was a place that worried us and intrigued us all at the same time. As booklovers, we couldn’t help ourselves as we looked through this crazy place to see if a treasure was waiting for us. I’m sure we bought a book or two there, because we nearly always do.
The other night, my 13-year old and I spent three hours in a bookstore. Three hours was not the plan, but when we found each other in the children’s section at the back of the store and I looked at my watch, it had been three hours! We were both shocked and thrilled and wondered how it could be that a place would keep us that occupied for that long.
I think the most logical reason for it can be found in a quote by Augustine Birrell, who said, “An ordinary man can…surround himself with two thousand books and thence forward have at least one place in the world in which it is possible to be happy.”
Three hours or two thousand books…either way, we’re happy.
A few nights ago, my kids were dreaming about what it would be like to have their own bookstore. They had so many ideas about what it would look like, but the most intriguing one was their plan for the front door. They have always been fans of C.S. Lewis and his classic Narnia series, so they decided that they would build a very large old-fashioned wardrobe for customers to walk through as they enter and exit the store. You might remember that is how the Pevensie children made their way into and out of Narnia.
It was a neat idea, but it became even more wonderful when our middle daughter explained her reasoning for the idea. She said, “For customers, it would be like leaving the real world and entering one more magical…and when they leave it would be sad, like leaving Narnia for the real world.”
At our house, I think summertime is much like Narnia – we love it around here because it is a definite pause in the roller coaster that is the year that exists on either side of it. Yes, we still work and do laundry and cook and pay bills and worry and laugh and cry and…live. But even with all of that, we still have time to just be. It is as though our summers are a lifetime away from the busyness of the school year.
Everyone here is connected to school life, my wife and I are part-time college professors and our kids are in different grades and schools across the city. This is why summer is so important to us. It always offers us a different pace…and we take full advantage if it. The kids are not tied to any particular activity away from home and they can take their time just being themselves and thinking and playing and cooking and reading and wondering. It’s a ride-your-bike, sleep-in-late and go-to-bed-later kind of world for them.
Next week at this time, school will have started and tickets to the roller coaster that this season brings will go quickly. We are indeed leaving “Narnia” through that wardrobe and coming back into the real world. A bit reluctant yes, but not downcast, for we are preparing for the adventures of the real world, too.
Here is how Lewis ended his great book on the subject – “And that is the very end of the adventures of the wardrobe. But if the Professor was right it was only the beginning of the adventures of Narnia.”
* Every Tuesday we introduce you to a favorite book from our secret book room, and give you a unique recipe over on our Book Cook page…
Today’s great book: The Doll People by Ann M. Martin & Laura Godwin (2000, Hyperion) and illustrated by the great Brian Selznick who also authored and illustrated The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007) and Wonderstruck (2011) as well as Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride (1999, illustrator only) and The Houdini Box (2001) and others. The Doll People story also continues in the wonderful The Meanest Doll in the World (2003) and The Runaway Dolls (2008).
Time to Read: 256 pages, a page-turner, 19 chapters
Summary: From the back cover: Annabelle Doll is eight years old – she has been for more than a hundred years. Not a lot has happened, to her, cooped up in the dollhouse, with the same doll people, day after day, year after year…until one day the Funcrafts move in.
Best Quote: “Annabelle stood still and looked at everybody, her hands on her hips. After a moment she said, ‘I have an announcement to make. I am going to search for Auntie Sarah.’…’That isn’t safe,’ said Papa. Annabelle thought about brave Auntie Sarah. She thought about Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt and Nancy Drew. ‘I’m going anyway,’ she said.”
Our View: In all honesty, at first I wasn’t excited about a book with the word “doll” in it, but I knew my kids would love it, and the illustrations are really what pulled me in as a dad…from the cover to the end pages. It is now among our top ten favorite chapter books in the secret book room! The illustrations are so detailed and nearly tell a tale of their own. Beyond that, the story that flows from the pages of this book really tells itself. Our first child was 6 when we read it, and my other two children, who always preferred for me to read to them together at bedtime, were 8 and 4. Your kids will be mesmerized by the matter-of-fact way in which the authors bring us into the lives of what we only thought were inanimate objects that looked like people and lived in a wonderful old, historic dollhouse in a child’s room. I’ll never forget that this was only the second book – the original The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) book was the first – that my daughters could hardly tear themselves away from and begged me to “keep reading” long after bed time. “Permanent doll state” is among our family’s favorite sayings now; that mysterious phrase alone should compel you to read this book. When you read the last sentence of the last page, you will wish it could go on – and thankfully it does. Though we had to wait for each additional book in the trilogy to debut, you don’t have to because all are now happily available at your favorite local independent bookstore.
Remember to visit our Book Cook page for a “Spider of the Doll People” recipe created by the kids to accompany this particular book.