One for the Books

Whoever built the 52 Book Club list knows me way too well.

If you’ve never heard of the list, it’s a quirky approach to getting people to read more in the New Year. Mind you, encouraging me to read is like encouraging Batman to fight crime – it’s not exactly a hard sell – but the list has become a favorite New Year’s tradition of mine because of how it does it.

Like a lot of reading lists, it encourages people to read 52 books in 52 weeks. But only a few entries are as straightforward as “a book in (x) genre” or “a book by (y) author.” Instead, most of its prompts are on the quirky side, such as “a book you meant to read last year,” “sends you down a rabbit hole,” or “a book that ‘everyone’ has read.”

Because of the list’s flexibility, it fits my reading habits well. But because the prompts are so varied, I always find myself exploring some books I wouldn’t have thought to try before. It’s a good match.

But for 2024, one prompt hit me right in the history: “a buddy read.” In other words, two people reading the same book so they can talk about it later.

Naturally, my thoughts went to Dad.

Both my parents are huge readers, but Dad was the one who passed on a love of reading out loud. From childhood all the way into college, we would pick out a book and then read it out loud together, passing it back and forth either at mid-chapter or on chapter breaks.

Together, we explored J.R.R. Tolkien, Farley Mowat, Mark Twain and many more. We’re both a believer in “doing voices” where we can, so our living room or car pool would often resonate with our personal attempts at amateur theater. (He’s always admired my Sam Gamgee while I remain envious of his Treebeard.)

It built a bond. And a habit.

When Heather and I married, we started doing the same thing. And of course, when we began taking care of Missy, it really took off. Missy’s developmental disabilities keep her from reading the story directly but not from appreciating it, and she’s often pointed out favorite characters and moments when we run across them elsewhere. (As a result, I now know where every image of Gandalf is within a 20-block radius.)

Once again, we tied ourselves together with words and memories.

And really, that’s what the best stories do.

It doesn’t have to be performative. Silent readers can certainly share memories, lessons and experiences too (as Mom and I have done many times). But either way, the essence of a story is connection, even empathy. You walk alongside a character and live their life. You enter an author’s head and wrestle with their thoughts and ideas.  What you find may even shape your own personal story – which then touches the stories of everyone around you.

In that sense, I suppose, life is a “buddy read.”

We’re entering the next chapter now, each of us with our own stories to write and share. Together, we can create one that’s worth re-reading … or at least be a character who’s remembered fondly in someone’s tale.

I’m looking forward to that. Even if it’ll never appear on any reading list.

Happy New Year, one and all.

And while we’re at it … have you read any good books lately?

The Juggling Act

“So, what are you reading these days?”

Every so often, a friend will ask that simple question. Simple and dangerous. Like a dragon deep within its cave, I have to smile in anticipation at an adventurer who does not know his peril.

“Well, I’m getting into a book on the fall of Richard Nixon. Oh, and there’s that new translation of The Iliad. And of course, Missy and I found a really fun modern fantasy series to go through at bedtime, we might have another hit there. And speaking of fantasy, there’s a novel  a co-worker finally got me into …”

No, I’m not just throwing out the coming attractions. This isn’t the to-be-read list, though that particular reading mountain is also impressively high. At any given time, I’m usually juggling anywhere from three to six books. It kind of works out a little bit like a literary version of Mambo No. 5: “A little bit of Asimov in my life, a little bit of history by my side ….”

I know I’m not alone. We’re out there, taking our meandering path less traveled. We’re often the kids who had to be told “No more than five books, OK?” on each library trip, knowing that we’d cart off half a shelf if given the chance – and devour it all.

And invariably, we get two questions from more tightly-focused readers.  “How?” Quickly followed by “Why??”

“How” isn’t something I’m sure I can answer. Like any skill, it seems to be a mix of inclination and practice. It’s not really multitasking (thank goodness) where one to-do interrupts another, lowering your productivity at both. If anything, it’s more like having multiple foods on your plate at dinner: you don’t have to finish your mashed potatoes before starting on the steak, but can alternate bites of both as you like, letting the flavors reinforce each other.

And maybe that’s part of the “Why?” as well. At its heart, this narrative whirlwind may be the most liberating experience I know.

We go through a lot in a day. Everything we touch shapes us, so that we’re not quite the same person from hour to hour, or maybe even minute to minute. Our mood shifts, our energy level shifts, our ability (or desire) to engage with the rest of the world shifts.

And as our life balances and re-balances, the sort of inner world we need may change, too. Like grabbing an umbrella for a rainstorm or a T-shirt for a sunny day, it’s nice to have options. (“The forecast is hopeful and curious, with a chance of random silliness: Yes, this is a great Connie Willis day.”)

It also keeps the stories fresh. We’ve all had the experience where even a favorite book can get a little fatiguing if you KNOW you have to finish it up before you can move on to another story you’re curious about.  Giving yourself the freedom to move from tale to tale as the inclination takes you (with careful bookmarks, of course) can keep all of it fresh and exciting.

It’s also a great reminder that nothing happens in isolation. Like that dinner plate I mentioned, it gives you a chance to combine and compare, bringing out themes you didn’t expect. (This happens to writers, too, by the way. Isaac Asimov once mentioned that the idea for his Foundation series happened when a Gilbert & Sullivan illustration got him thinking about what he’d read of the fall of the Roman Empire.)

So go ahead. Let the worlds collide. It’s your literary universe, after all.

 And when someone asks you that Simple Question – remember to let your inner dragon smile.

Book ‘Em

The Halloween season holds a lot of unsettling experiences. Like the chilling costumes. Or the blood-curdling movies. Or the thought that Election Day is just a week away. (“NOOOO!!!”)

But I think Paddy Riordan’s story may be my favorite hair-raising exploit this year, or at least one that I can sympathize with. You see, Paddy walked into his Coventry library with a book that was … shall we say, slightly overdue?

As in 84 years.

That’s right. According to UPI, the copy of “Red Deer” by Richard Jefferies had been checked out since 1938. For perspective, Neville Chamberlain was still assuring Britain of “peace in our time,” Betty White was still a fresh-faced teenager and the Denver Broncos were still 22 years away from disappointing football fans across the Centennial State.

You hear tales like this every so often, usually resolved with a laugh and a minor fine/donation (in this case, a little over $21 based on 1930s daily fines). But they never fail to make me wince as I recognize a kindred soul.

You see, I’m a bit of a bibliophile – which is a little like saying that Usain Bolt liked to run a little. I read constantly. Voraciously. And since I married a big reader, our combined collections aren’t so much a mountain of books as they are a literary Front Range, running the gamut from ancient history to star-spanning science fiction.

Naturally, I often spent a lot of time at the library – or should I say the “other library”? – joining the happy crowd of browsers and borrowers. But a book-loving spirit is a dangerous thing to have in combination with an absent-minded head. Especially when there are so many books already serving as natural camouflage for the newcomers.

And so, I tended to spend about as much time “settling up” as I did checking out. I can’t claim that my overdue fees personally paid for the new carpet at the Longmont Library, but it wouldn’t surprise me much.

I bring this up for two reasons. First, if I make headlines 40 years from now by unearthing a forgotten Bill Bryson volume and taking it to the circulation desk, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

And second, as much as these stories strike a little close to home, they’re also heartwarming in a way. After all, we learn about them in almost exactly the same way, time after time: the person or their descendant uncovers the lost volume and brings it in.

No one would know if they didn’t. It’s possible no one would care. Most libraries don’t have the budget to keep a cold case file with square-jawed investigators seeking the truth. (Although wouldn’t that make a great TV series?) After a book spends decades off the shelf, most would assume that it’s not coming back.

Which means that every time it does, it’s an act of conscience. Someone who remembers what’s owed and wants to do their part to make it right.

When you think about it, this is a great time of year to remember that.

I don’t mean Halloween this time (though if you decide you “owe” really good candy to the kids on your block, bless you). But as I said earlier, Election Day is about a week away. Veterans Day is just a few days after that. Taken together, it’s a time to remember what we owe as citizens in building a country for all of us, as well as what’s been paid by those who came before.

Again, it’s a debt owed in conscience. If someone skips their piece of it, few would know. But when more of us who remember and repay, it’s better for all of us.

That kind of commitment speaks volumes.

Directions in the Fogg

For the last few weeks, bedtime has been a race. And now, at last, Missy has pulled up smiling at the finish line.

A trip around the world can do that.

No, we’re not defying coronavirus restrictions and dashing through international borders one step ahead of the health authorities. Heck, at the rate baseball has been going, even state borders are starting to look like an adventure worthy of Indiana Jones.

But Missy’s bedtime reading has opened a lot of doors over the years. We’ve journeyed through Middle-earth. We’ve battled evil at Hogwarts. We’ve traveled the stars with Madeleine L’Engle and solved mysteries with Ellen Raskin.  And since Missy’s online activity group has been “visiting” a lot of countries lately, the time felt right  to introduce her to an old friend.

Once again, it was time to travel with Phileas Fogg.

If you’re not familiar with “Around The World In Eighty Days” – is there anyone left? – you have quite the journey ahead of you. I was a kid on summer vacation with my family when I first read Jules Verne’s tale of the incredibly precise 19th-century Englishman who accepts a 20,000 pound wager to circle the world  in the stipulated time without being a single minute late.  It’s a short novel and one that moves as quickly as its characters as they jump from trains and steamships to sailing craft and elephants, efficiently racing the clock (and a misguided detective).

Like a lot of older books, some bits age better than others. But the story still draws like a magnet because the central idea still works.

No, not the idea of circling the globe in under three months. Anyone with access to an airline ticket and a passport – a combination which, admittedly, has become a piece of fiction itself lately – can travel at a pace that leaves Fogg and his friends gasping in the dust.  But the challenge behind Fogg’s wager is still part of us today.

Namely, the idea that with enough planning, even the unexpected can become predictable.

At this stage of 2020, the idea sounds almost humorous. Anything we may have expected on  New Year’s Eve has surely gone through the paper shredder as we’ve grappled with seven months of upside-down events. It’s always hard to grasp how little control we truly have, but 2020 seems determined to remind us of that constantly … with a Louisville Slugger, if necessary.

The thing is, Fogg’s friends back home seem to have already absorbed the lesson. From the start, they remind him of all the things that could go wrong – breakdowns, bad weather, local violence and more. And in a way, they’re right. Fogg’s ability to take advantage of the good and improvise around the bad gets absolutely derailed on the final lap, disrupted by the one complication he hadn’t foreseen. Disaster looms.

It sounds like a pandemic lesson. And I hope it is. Because – spoiler alert! – that’s not the end of the story.

There’s a second complication. A positive one that gives Fogg more time than he thought he had. But without his planning, he would never have been in position to take advantage of it. And without learning to recognize and return the love of others, he would never have seen the opportunity at all.

And that is the lesson we need to learn.

Not to give up. Not to say “Nothing we do will make any difference.” But to plan as best we can, improvise where we have to, and recognize that ultimately it’s our compassion for the people around us that will get us through this. When we look out for each other instead of grasping desperately at normal, we win – because every one of us is “each other” to someone else.

Like all adventures, this will leave us changed. But it can be a change for the better.

Maybe, just maybe, a little Fogg can help us see clearly.

The Doctor and the Professor

In some ways, the Doctor and the Professor couldn’t seem more different.

The Doctor looked toward a fantastic future, built among the stars and shared with a race of mechanical men. The Professor looked toward a mythical past, sheltered amidst the trees and hills and shared with beings older than mankind.

One wrote at high speed in a utilitarian style that kept the stories coming and coming. The other labored over each word, considering the history of every drop of color and whisper of wind.

And for fans of the fantastic like myself, the New Year hasn’t really started without them. Dr. Isaac Asimov, one of the biggest names in science fiction, born January 2. Professor J.R.R. Tolkien, the godfather of modern fantasy, born January 3.

Am I geeking out here? Maybe just a little. But it really is just that cool.

Part of it, of course, is memory. My love for Tolkien was born in elementary school, reinforced by many hobbit-filled reading nights with my dad where we delighted in every new character and voice. (I still envy Dad’s booming Treebeard, just as I think he always appreciated my attempts at the hardworking Sam Gamgee’s accent.) Asimov’s work I met a little later, encouraged in part by a science teacher who felt that no robotics club was complete without the Good Doctor.

Obviously, I’ve got a lot of company – including the Doctor and the Professor themselves, as it turned out. Asimov was one of the few “modern” writers that Tolkien genuinely enjoyed reading; Asimov, for his part, once mentioned that he’d read The Lord of the Rings five times and was genuinely surprised when his own Foundation series beat it out for a Hugo award. But it’s more than pleasure and nostalgia.

The truth is, there couldn’t be a better way to start the year. Because in doing so, we look toward the truly human.

I know that sounds strange. Asimov solidified robots in the modern imagination, while Tolkien introduced us to hobbits and all their kin. But both writers, even in their most epic tales, built everything on the most simple and basic of human qualities.

In Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, the problems of the world aren’t solved by mighty armies and powerful leaders. Instead, it comes from the compassion and determination of simple folk, knowing they’re not up to the job, but doing their best for as long as they can.

In Asimov’s worlds of the future, the answers don’t come from vast armadas and epic battles – in fact, violence is mocked by one character as “the last resort of the incompetent.” Instead, the key is to use your reason to understand the world and the people around you, knowing that if you can see what the problem actually is, the solution may be simpler than you think.

Heart. Mind. An awareness that other people matter – whatever their origin –  and a disdain for the pride and hatred that often sets them apart.

We still need all of that today. Maybe now more than ever.

And if we let it be nothing more than a fantasy, then we’re writing ourselves a very dark tale, indeed.

So go ahead. Look to the promise of the future. Take heart in the legends of the past. And use the tales of both to see our present moment more clearly. That’s what will give us the humanity to reach beyond the threats and fear that haunt our times – to build a world together rather than destroy it apart.

It’s a vital lesson.

And it’s one the Doctor and the Professor are still waiting to teach.

Turn, Turn, Turn … The Page, That Is

When the weather turns cold, my activity speaks volumes.

OK, I admit that that’s also true when the weather turns warm, or windy, or cloudy with a chance of meatballs. Books and I have had a close relationship since I was two and a half years old – sometimes exhilarating, sometimes exhausting, sometimes downright heart wrenching and painful, but always sticking around no matter what. Kind of like Keith Richards, but with better articulation.

But when the skies turn steel-gray, the ground turns white, and the Broncos start retreating from playoff hopes like the British from Dunkirk … well, that’s the ideal time to dive into the thick books and the long series, when there’s nothing around to distract you from the story except the hanging threat of house cleaning.

So naturally, I decided to take another turn at the Wheel. Or rather, a re-turn. Sort of.

Allow me to explain.

If you’re not deeply familiar with epic fantasy, The Wheel of Time is a series that started in 1990 and stretched over 14 volumes and the next couple of decades. The author, Robert Jordan, actually fell ill and died before completing the final books (George R.R. Martin, take warning!) but left sufficiently detailed notes that another author could bring the adventure in for a safe landing.

I was a faithful reader of the Wheel for about the first nine volumes or so. And then – well, life happened. There were jobs to attend to, and family health issues to deal with, and of course the constant dalliance with other books in the gaps between volumes, like that teasing Harry Potter series. (I feel so … unclean.)

Well. You can guess the next step. When you’ve been away from an unfinished series long enough and decide to correct the matter, the first thing you have to do is bring yourself back up to speed. And while I am a dedicated re-reader (old books are old friends, so why not pay a visit?), plunging back through nine thick books to get your mind back to where you left off is a little intimidating, even for me.

I needn’t have worried. Good prose remains good prose, however long it’s been. And there was even a side benefit. It had been long enough that I could come at the book almost like a first-time reader – but with hints of what was to come, as memory excavated bits and pieces of significance, like precious artifacts on an archaeological dig.

Familiar … yet changed.

Yes, this is the perfect time of year for that.

This is the time of the first snow, when familiar landscapes get changed into something new overnight.

This is just barely past the time of masks and costumes, when familiar faces enjoy the fun of a new identity.

This comes as we remake time itself for the fall and winter … as ballots give us the opportunity to remake parts of the world we live in … as lights and decorations start to sneak out into the world and give it a different hue.

Spring has the reputation for rebirth and transformation, but in all honesty, it may be the fall and winter that stand out more –  the near transformation, the one where you can still see the outlines, but in a new light and a new way.

Familiar … yet changed.

That’s not a bad perspective for any of us to have. To step back from the well-worn path and the comfortable view – not necessarily to leave it (sometimes the road more traveled is more traveled for a reason) but to take a different angle on it and learn a new lesson. To see more of who we are.

It’s a time for reflection. For examination. Maybe even for decisions, even if it’s just to finish a good book.

Which reminds me. I’ve got a chapter that’s waiting.

After all, it’s the Wheel thing.

Speaking Volumes

Each year, there’s something truly amazing about Banned Books Week.

OK, that probably marks me as a certified Grade-A geek. No big deal. Considering that my personal mountain range of books is about as extensive as Smaug’s dragon-hoard of gold (and about as poorly organized), it might be just a wee bit obvious that the printed word is important to me. And the electronic word. And sometimes the barely-legible handwritten word as well.

And so, when it comes time to remember the Battles of the Library Shelves I pay attention. And when the annual observance is over and … well, in the books for another year, I always have to shake my head in wonder.

Dragons don’t understand burglars. And bookworms don’t understand the effort to ban.

First of  all, there’s the sheer audacity of the idea. Ever since childhood, I’ve been able to spend entire ages of human history in a library, trying to decide what I should be reading. The idea that someone who’s never met me could make that choice for me – in the negative – is laughable. Parents, OK, but strangers?

Then, there’s the unintended comedy that often arises. Among the many well-known challenged books (Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, the Harry Potter series) is the extremely innocuous picture book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Why? Because the author, Bill Martin, happened to have the same name as the writer of a book on Marxism and the challengers couldn’t tell the difference. Two Bill Martins – what are the odds?

Let’s add a dash of futility to the mix. I mean, how many people argue with a librarian and live to tell the tale?

But finally – and a little sadly – I sometimes wonder if the book challengers are trying to capture an unoccupied hill.

If a book isn’t read, it barely matters whether it’s challenged or not.

Right now, the average American reads for pleasure for about 16 minutes a day. That’s a number to dim the fire of any dragon. And it’s one that baffles me just a little.

It could be because of how busy we keep ourselves – except that many of us regularly devote a three-hour stretch of time to the week’s football game.

It could be because reading requires active concentration on an extended narrative – but if anything, Americans have proven they can passionately absorb and debate lengthy story arcs across the latest streaming TV series or movie franchise.

We could blame those darned kids and their need to see everything on a screen – but according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, it’s mostly seniors who have been spending more time watching TV, movies or streaming video, while younger age groups have either stayed about the same or fallen.

Whatever the reason, it’s time to turn the page.

I know I’m preaching to the choir here. (You ARE reading this, right?) But reading is possibly the greatest pastime we’ve ever created. With a moment’s effort, you’ve established a telepathic bond, experiencing the thoughts of an author who may be separated by thousands of miles and hundreds of years. You can step inside the head of another person in a way that other media still struggle to recreate, experiencing walks of life vastly different from your own – or finding someone who’s walked your path, understands your struggles, and can reassure you that you’re not alone.

It might be a paperback close to hand. It might be an entire library on a tablet. Heck, my dad devoured bookcases worth of audiobooks on his daily drive to and from Golden for 40 years. The form doesn’t matter – the power is the same.

And if you’re one of the ones struggling to find even a few minutes of reading time– take heart.  With a book, every little bit adds up. Sixteen minutes a day can often finish a book in a month, aside from the real doorstoppers. (And as we’ve seen with Harry Potter, the doorstoppers sometimes get finished faster.)

So yes, the situation could be better. But the treasures still await. The battles are still worth fighting. The power to read remains precious.

Precious enough for some people to try to limit it.

Don’t let anyone do that.

Including yourself.

Unlocking the Cave

Magic hides in the strangest places. And if the University of Bristol didn’t know that before, it certainly does now.

The British college made headlines a few days ago when it realized that one of its 16th-century texts contained something even older – pieces of a medieval manuscript about King Arthur and the wizard Merlin. In them, the magical advisor not only plans a battle for the Round Table but leads the charge, carrying a dragon banner that spits actual fire.

Sounds like Michael Bay just found his next blockbuster action movie, doesn’t it?

When my friends started sending me the story, I didn’t know whether to be impressed or amused. On the one hand, I’ve always been a sucker for the fantastic and the legendary, and it’s beyond amazing to see an old tale take on new life like this.  On the other hand – was this a carefully veiled hint? Like a lot of writers, I tend to attract clutter, and it’s not impossible that a lost rough draft of “Beowulf” could be hiding somewhere in my old shelves and stacks, waiting for the next archaeological dig …. er, spring cleaning.

(Side note: I’m hardly the only one. Heaven knows that the purse of our developmentally disabled ward, Missy, could be concealing several Arthurian cycles, the Holy Grail, and the secret treasure of Al Capone if we dug down far enough. But that’s another story)

But never mind the cleaning for now. (I’m good at that.) At its heart, this new discovery stirs up a lot of hope for me. No, it’s not going to cure cancer, or put a man on Mars, or restore the Denver Broncos to their rightful prominence in the football world. But it’s a reminder – one we need badly.

Wonder can live anywhere.

In 16 years as a newspaper reporter, I learned that everyone holds a story inside them, that any place can have a tale told. The bent old man who once fought in France. The office workers, attorneys, and air traffic controllers who also light up audiences as novelists, actors, and musicians. The young woman with pink hair holding a quiet, hidden pain that could break hearts – and a strength that could shake mountains.

Ordinary people? No. There are no ordinary people. Everyone has something more inside than the eye can see.

Even us.

And that may be the hardest to believe of all.

It’s appropriate that it was a Merlin story that triggered all this. One of the more famous Arthurian stories is about how an enchantress named Nimue learns the secret of Merlin’s power and then uses it to seal him away – in a cave, or a tree, or some other enchanted prison, depending on the tale. Magic and wonder beyond belief, carefully hidden where no one will ever see it.

Sound familiar? It should.

“Oh, no one wants to hear about that.”

“They wouldn’t look at me the same if they knew.”

“This isn’t good enough for anyone to see.”

Or maybe it’s not even in words. Just an awareness of the face we put on, and the real person somewhere inside.

It’s not easy to let it out sometimes. It can take honesty and persistence and courage. It can certainly mean dealing with people who don’t understand what they see, who would rather the cave stay sealed. That’s always easier.

But if the door opens – magic can enter through it. Maybe a tale that enraptures the world. Maybe just a bit more kindness to make the world a more bearable place. Whatever it is, we need it. It belongs here.

A story, to live, must be told. Hidden in the binding, it says nothing. Brought into the light of day, it can melt 800 years like yesterday’s snowfall.

Tell your story. Open your cave. Share your magic.

And if it adds a fire-breathing dragon banner to the world, so much the better.

Beyond Count

There are numbers that are just too small to make sense. Like one potato chip. Or a two-day PBS pledge drive.

Or 30 books.

Thirty books?

Thirty books?

That’s the number that’s been quoted and misquoted all over the internet for the past few days, to varying degrees of amusement and horror. It’s tied to the organizational expert Marie Kondo of “Tidying Up,” who supposedly said that in straightening up your life, one should “Ideally, keep less than 30 books.”

Now, as it turns out, that started with the Rev. Jeremy Smith, a practitioner of Kondo’s method who was joking about his own tendency to accumulate books. It’s also something of a personal goal for Kondo herself, who mentioned in “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” that she keeps her collection down to about 30 books at any given time, though she never made that a formal requirement.

But it was too late. By the time, it hit the internet and became a meme, the damage was done.

“Thirty books?”

“She means per shelf, right?”

“Maybe per nightstand?”

“Good grief!”

While it’s a dismaying comment on our ability to fact-check (and yeah, I was sucked in for a while, too), it also says something very uplifting about our attachment to the written word.

I myself am one of the long-time practitioners  of tsundoku, and no, that doesn’t mean I spend all my time with number puzzles. “Tsundoku” is a Japanese pun that refers to the huge pile of volumes you’re going to read some day, honest. This usually isn’t from lack of desire – most creators of these literary mountain ranges are huge readers – but from the tendency to see a cover and think “Ooh! That looks cool!”

Presto! Three books in for every one book finished.

I started reading when I was about two and a half years old. One could argue that I’ve never really stopped. Between my collection and Heather’s, we now have … well, more than 30. If the Longmont Public Library decides it needs to open a north Longmont branch, we’re ready.

And despite my own speedy reading pace, yes, there are unread books on my shelves at any given time. Maybe on yours, too. And that’s OK.

Books have an inertia, a tendency to stay. New books are the potential of discovery, the chance to hear a new voice, encounter a new story, discover a new experience or a new facet of a seemingly-familiar one. Old books are the old friends that come back to visit every so often, whether it’s “I have to re-read this every year or so” or “I want to go back to my favorite scene, just one more time.”

But of course, there’s only so much time. No one can do everything, see everything, or (unthinkable as it may seem) read everything.

I’ll speak some heresy for a moment – it is OK to let some of that everything go. Everyone has that decision that seemed like a good idea at the time and now just hangs there. If someone else can get more joy from it than you can, let it go with a blessing. (If no one can get joy from it, let it go with high velocity.)

But it’s also OK to hang on to those dreams, literary or otherwise. Even if you can’t quite reach the unreachable star.

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” Robert Browning once wrote. If there’s always a dream to chase, a book to open,  a discovery you haven’t made yet, that’s exciting. After all, if everything could be accomplished, how dull would the remaining life ahead be?

To paraphrase Kondo herself, if that chance of discovery, of serendipity, brings you joy, hang on to it. Tightly. (And hopefully with adequate shelving space.)

You may just have a pleasant hour ahead of you.

Or even 30.

Reading Into It

Once upon a time, I watched children’s literature win the Super Bowl.

OK, not literally. There were no overpriced commercials armed with bad jokes, cold beer, and cute puppies. Justin Timberlake never got within a mile of the microphone. There were no questioned calls, no fireworks and high-flying blimps, no appearances of the Tom Brady game face. (Broncos fans, take a moment to cheer, please.)

But the small city of Emporia, Kan. lined the streets for a huge parade. Well-known children’s authors from across the country descended on the school system for classes and events and even sleepovers. LeVar Burton himself, he of Reading Rainbow, showed up to be the emcee on the big day.

It was 2002, the 50th year of the William Allen White Children’s Book Awards. And on that day, there was no doubt that reading had power.

As the last remnants of Super Bowl LII-RTD-LOL-EIEIO get scraped off the field, it’s good to remember. Football champions come and go. But a good book lasts.

This week – in theory, at least – it’s time to call that out.

The first full week in February, it seems, marks one of the thousands of obscure holidays that the world has to offer – Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week.  Normally, I call holidays like this out to tease them a bit, on the order of National Popcorn Day (Jan. 19), National Kiss a Wookiee Day (June 15), and Eat Country Ham Month (October, which must make trick-or-treating a little interesting). But in this case, even if the date is forgettable, the topic’s a close one to my heart.

I started reading when I was two and a half. I never really stopped. Kids’ books were old friends, from Richard Scarry and Dr. Seuss, to Stuart Little and Encyclopedia Brown, to The Westing Game and The Secret Garden. Never mind the family read-aloud time, where my sisters and I discovered Middle-Earth, Green Gables, and many more.

Each story led to the next … and possibly, to my habits as a night owl. When I met my wife Heather, she was the same way – she had shed tears at the end of Charlotte’s Web as a child, and thrown 1984 across the room as a teenager in anger at the ending. Even now, as guardians to Heather’s developmentally disabled aunt Missy, our most sacred time of the day is the evening storytime. (Often with Mr. Harry Potter, the audience favorite.)

I know some will call this memories of a bygone era, that social media and smartphones have eaten any desire to actually read. I smile and remember working in a bookstore in the 1990s, when television and video games were the worries of the day … and children streamed in to buy Goosebumps books. Or helping with children’s summer theater during the 2000s, when the internet was taking over … and seeing half the cast parked backstage with the latest Harry Potter.

Books have found distracted youth before. They can still find them now.

And they’re still needed.

A good book builds empathy. It requires you to put yourself in a character’s shoes, live in their brain, see how they experience the world. Chosen well, it can make you reach outside yourself and enter a world you never knew.

A good book can build family. Taking even a little time to read together – and I know how that seems to get harder every day – not only spurs interest in a story, it strengthens family bonds to simply have the time together. (It also means there’s a guide on hand for the more challenging words; I first learned “fortnight” and “quay” from reading Tolkien with my dad).

And yes, it builds language and learning skills – but maybe even earlier than anyone realizes. A recent study found that babies learned more quickly if they were read stories that had named characters. As young as six months.

It doesn’t take a halftime show by Bruno Mars, or an overflight by the Blue Angels, or a trick play drawn up by Bill Belichick. Just time, love, and a library card.

And if you want to hold your own private parade for your favorite title, I’ll be the last to stop you.

Go, team. Let’s book ‘em.