When I was a kid long car trips looked like this: whoever was the baby at the time was in the front seat between our parents, the rest of us were crammed into the back, playing the classic “I’m not touching you” game. Once everyone was asleep, I would lean forward, hanging over the bench seat in front of me to talk to my dad. He drove like a man on a mission, chain smoking his way down the two lane roads to our destination, searching for a new AM station as necessary. My Mom? Always, always, sound asleep on the other side of the front seat, arm around the baby, head cushioned from the window by a pillow, a book open in her lap. If you’re trying to date this little story let me spell out the clues for you: no interstate or FM radio, a little second hand smoke wasn’t going to hurt anyone and the unrestrained baby in the front seat was in the safest spot in the car. If you’ve picked any point in the sixties you win.
My siblings and I supposed, in our gender specific world, that daddies drove cars and mommies slept in them. I realized, as a grown up, that my mother didn’t necessarily intend to sleep in the car (note the presence of an open book in her lap) but as soon as she got a break from looking after a big family she simply passed out, her much anticipated reading time blotted out by fatigue. I realized this because I’m a mommy who frequently wakes up face first in a book.
As I read to Junior at 7:00 p.m. I rock. We did Because of Winn-Dixie because of we watched the movie, so now we’re working our way through the Tale of Desperaux. My reading is expressive while my English major brain marvels at the structure and the symbolism DiCammillo has packed into a pretty good story. We stop and talk about the story, and best of all, Junior is so taken with this book that she hides it under her pillow so I can’t ” accidentally” return it before we finish (I’m not proud of this but I just couldn’t read another Junie B. Jones.)
7:00 p.m. is great, but 10:00 p.m., now that’s a different story entirely. I have learned that I need something light and easy because I’m so tired I just can’t focus for long. The Hemingses of Monticello have done me in, I gave up on Minders of Make-believe and please don’t ask me about Cleopatra: A Life—I’m betting she dies but I still don’t really know how. Christopher Hitchens’ new collection is nice because it’s lots of short essays, but mostly I fall back on old favorites—the King of Attolia and its companion books, the Grand Sophy, anything by Christopher Moore—and cookbooks. The good folks at America’s Test Kitchen provide wonderful bedtime reading because each recipe comes with a little story. Mastering the Art of French Cooking reads better than you’d think and of course my crush Jacques Pepin always has something new to read. Books about cooking are okay too. I’ve just finished Kathleen Flinn’s The Sharper your Knife the Less you Cry. It was perfect—short chapters, little life lessons and it left me dreaming of butter, pastry and crispy duck skin.