This, I should say, is how I was raised too, in a house full of books, by parents who put a premium on the written word. I was allowed to pick up everything — and often did. When I was in third grade, I checked out "War and Peace" from the school library (I was looking for the longest book in the world), and although I never actually opened it, I remain thrilled by the idea that no one told me not to try. The adults in my world — my parents, my teacher, the school librarian — knew that Tolstoy's novel was beyond me, but they also knew that literature is a landscape of possibility in which the most important gift we have to offer is that of openness. I still remember that big brown hardcover sitting on my desk, whispering its promise, just as I remember how it felt to be told yes. Here, we have what books and reading bestow: that affirmation, that port of entry, the glorious pleasure of seeing the world open, even if it's not always a world we understand.
Sophie also relates to books like this. Not long ago, she made a shift from what she calls "girlie" books ("Paparazzi Princess," the works of Meg Cabot and Lauren Myracle) in favor of "The Hunger Games," which she had resisted until then. Why? "Those books got boring," she told me. "The stories were the same." Again, a bit of critical thinking, but even more important, a sense of flexibility. This, too, is a gift reading offers, the gift of knowing we can change our minds.
How do we encourage this kind of mental agility? How do we impress upon our kids the value of a fluid mind? For me, it starts with books, which are fluid by their nature, exposing us to stories, to ideas, to information we didn't previously know. They are also fun, as Sophie would be the first to tell you, engaging and interactive in the truest meaning of the words. This is why I will always buy a book, any book, for my children, and why my shelves will always be open to them. There is no greater gift, no better bridge between us, no other territory in which we enter the imagination of another and discover (miracle of miracles) ourselves.