Sunday, December 12, 2010

Third World Green Daddy Part 6: Reading Material

My wife and I are big readers. I tend to lean more toward non-fiction essays, histories, and things like that, while she prefers novels. But both of us read pretty much whatever comes our way. In this vein, I've been reading to Samuel even in utero. He gets excited and jumps around when he hears my voice, or when I touch my wife's belly. At first I thought this was just wishful thinking on my part, and that Samuel would jump around at anyone's touch. But it really does seem that somehow he distinguishes my voice or something.

We started with a book of Grimm fairy tales my godmother gave me when I was born.

It's a beautiful edition, illustrated with color plates by Kay Nielsen.

Many of the tales are stern and weird and sort of amoral. There are people put in nail-studded barrels and pulled by horses until they die, knights whose heads get cut off and put back on, twins that sleep with the same woman. By the twelfth tale my wife was happy to be done with the book.

Nowadays I'm reading Robert Service's Tales of the Yukon to our son.

These are manly tales of the gold rush, drinking, fortunes made and lost, loyalty, betrayal, and the supernatural. My father was a big Service fan, calling him "the best bad poet" (for his incessant, almost puerile rhyming), and I grew up with a beautifully illustrated edition of The Cremation of Sam McGee, of which I've subsequently obtained a new copy for my stepdaughter.

I want our Samuel to grow up with these tales of wild men and wild places, and I hope the world will still harbor some wild places when Samuel is grown.

My wife, desiring a break from Service's poetry, also has us reading an anthology of coming-of-age stories from great world writers like V.S. Naipaul, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Nadine Gordimer. I believe my father used some stories from this book in textbooks he compiled and edited.

We're even starting little Samuel's spiritual formation in the womb. This morning I finally got around to reading him a bit of the Bible. I'm starting with the Gospel of John, which I think is the most interesting version of the most interesting part of the Bible. I'm also reading St. Augustine's Confessions on my own time, so reading John today I ran across a lot of passages Augustine refers to. All that about the Word being with God, and being God, comes from pre-Christian Platonist thinking. Augustine found many of Christianity's roots in such thinking, but what was lacking was the Incarnation. The Platonists had an idea of a Logos, an emissary from God and of God, but they had no belief that this Logos would take human form. It's also impressive how much of the Catholic liturgy comes from just the first chapter of John.

The Bible I'm reading to Samuel from is a Protestant version I got maybe 12 years ago from a friend in high school. Obviously it's missing things like Maccabees and Wisdom that we Catholics use, but I like the translation a lot.

I always read and talk to Samuel in English, and my wife Caro talks to him in Spanish. I don't think it makes much of a difference now, as what he can hear from his perch within the uterus is probably just indistinct rumbling. But once he's born, I intend to keep this up. From what I've read and seen, kids whose parents speak multiple languages to them indiscriminantly often can't differentiate between the different languages, and mix them together when they speak. On the other hand, if there are clear boundaries between when one language or another is spoken, it's easier for the child to learn. So if Dad (and Grandma) always talk to Samuel in English, and Mom (and Sister and society) always in Spanish, he should be able to figure things out better. I've heard that Nabokov was like five years old before he realized he was speaking multiple languages. Until then he had just thought that you talked with Grandma in one way, and Mom in another, and your cousins in another, but it turned out he was speaking English, French, and Russian to different family members.

Eventually I'd love to read Samuel books in other languages, and get him speaking things like French

or Chinese. But that will have to wait until he knows the difference between when we're speaking one language or another.

Once Samuel's born I hope to make reading an important part of his life, as it has been for me, my wife, and our families. Of course there will be kiddy books like the great Eric Carle works my cousin gave us,

and the classic Dr. Seuss, Haunted House, and Dwindling Party books my mom has kept wrapped in plastic since I was a baby. We've also got a beautiful book of Greek myths by the D'Aulaires,

and Maurice Sendak's Nutcracker.

But especially while Samuel's still a non-talking infant, I don't imagine it'll make much difference if I'm reading him Spot's First Christmas or Dostoyevsky! Maybe even the heavy, profound stuff will sink in somewhere in his subconscious, seeding in him a love for great books and for contemplating what life's all about.

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