All that book learnin’

Books play a major role in our house. My wife Stephenie is a librarian. We both read a lot. We own a lot of books. More than 500. I know that. I counted. I counted because I read a story in the news last year about a study that said that children who grow up in households with more than 500 books in them are much more likely to pursue post secondary and graduate school educations. As soon as I got home, I started counting. I was confident we would eclipse the 500 mark and relieved that we did. That does not include children’s books. We probably have 500 more counting those.

Our two girls love to be read to and to look at books. Kat, now seven, reads, no consumes, books almost as quickly as her mother does. They are fast readers. I am a slow reader, or as I prefer to think of it, I take my time reading and absorbing a book. Sometimes that sucks. It can take a long time to finish a long book.

We have always loved books. I have always turned to books to satiate my curiosity or find an answer to a question. I know it annoyed some people in my family when we would be having a discussion about something and I wouldn’t be able to sleep until I had looked up the answer. I always knew I had a book somewhere that would be able to give me the answer. If it isn’t obvious, I was, and still am, a book geek who found the table of contents and the index of a book a fascinating realm of information.

Which brings us to today when people Google questions rather than look up the answers in a book. It takes longer to find an online dictionary than to pick up a real one and look up the word, but it is the habit of the day. Often Google is simpler and easier. It is an amazing tool. But it hasn’t replaced books entirely, at least not in our house.

Our girls wanted to research something, anything. The idea must have come from Kat’s grade 1 class. Great idea. I said maybe to tie in with Documentary Night, we should pick a topic each month to research. They picked big cats. They wanted to get on the computer and start researching. I said we didn’t need to do that and pulled off the shelf a National Geographic book, a book about Canadian wildlife that I knew included great photos of mountain lions, and a book on wild cats of British Columbia. I presented them with the books and said, here start with these. In the old days, this is what we did. We looked in books when we wanted to research something.

I think they were a bit disappointed. Perhaps the whole research idea was a way to get some computer time. Kat even said something about that may be how we did it in the old days but she likes to be modern. After awhile, though, they were flipping through the books, asking about the pictures, and having a grand time. Then we went on the computer and watched some big cat videos on National Geographic Kids. My point, I guess, was a holistic approach. We have all these books; they have plenty of information; let’s use them. We also use the computer, but when we can, let’s start with the books.

It makes me wonder where we are headed with Google and Wikipedia and e-books. Will the study of the future say that children in a house with more than 500 books on their e-reader are more likely to finish school? Or children in homes with more than one e-reader and computer? What will happen to used book stores and what will we put on all those empty bookshelves once everything is digitized? We once tried to explain what a card catalogue was to the girls. We soon came to the conclusion of what’s the point? I don’t really miss card catalogues anyway. But I will miss all the books.

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Recommended reading

Echoing Stephenie’s discussion on her blog of recommended books, we recently ran through a list of  the best books we read over the past year. I thought about it and gave the titles of three that surprised me and therefore stuck with me. In no particular order:

Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer. The stunning movie by Sean Penn still haunts me. The book, which I actually listened to as an audio book, was just as riveting. It is totally engrossing. It makes one think. It made an impact.

Paths of Glory, by Jeffrey Archer. A fictionalized telling of the life of George Mallory, the famous British mountaineer who tried to conquer Mount Everest. The book’s description says, “On his third attempt in 1924, at age thirty-seven, he was last seen six hundred feet from the top. His body was found in 1999, and it still remains a mystery whether he ever reached the summit.” Regardless of the truth or suppositions made in the book, I again found it a totally compelling read. High adventure, high drama, an exceptional tale made even more interesting because of its portrayal of a real person.

The End of the Alphabet, by CS Richardson. The only book so far from this Canadian author is an amazing little story that eliminates everything except what is absolutely necessary. It’s only 140 pages long, but it details two people’s lives concisely. From the outset you know it is not going to have a happy ending, yet the clarity of the narrative is so impressive and refreshing, I was hooked immediately. His second novel comes out later this year. I’ll be watching for it.

Okay, so all three books were heartbreaking. I wasn’t going for that theme. Perhaps that is why they stayed with me. I highly recommend them.