I was in a book discussion earlier this week with a woman who keeps A Reading Journal. She writes as she reads—notes and quotes, questions and lists, impressions and recommendations, etc. She has, she confessed under my too eager questioning, multiple volumes of these journals. I imagine them sitting with their straight spines and gilded pages all on one bookshelf. I am jealous—not envious, but flat out jealous. She insists their residence is not so neat, that the practice is not that admirable. She says the notebooks are not all the same, that some are falling apart, that she keeps them in multiple places etc. She says this as if she’s really not so organized and diligent, but she doesn’t fool me. She’s been keeping A Reading Journal since she was eleven.
I’ve always wanted to keep A Reading Journal. I’ve never kept A Reading Journal. Not so much, even, as a list of the things I’ve read. I can forgive myself for this, but I’m envious of those who do manage to jot down the titles, even if nothing else.
However…on the heels of meeting this wonderful reader, I read this interview. Because I would read anything having to do with Kevin Henkes, on whom I might have a small writerly-crush. (Sometimes, when I have a rough day, I watch the Meet Kevin Henkes video on his website. It’s better than a glass of wine. I watch him draw Lilly…and my thoughts settle. I listen to him talk about the colors of Lilly and Ginger’s dresses…and I feel like I can go on. He flips through his notebooks showing us how his ideas become books…sigh…and I am inspired and ready to work. I’m easily moved by the keeping of notebooks, apparently.)
I adore this man’s books—especially the mouse picture books. When I think of this wonderful author-artist in his book-lined, light-filled studio creating books for us, my heart is glad. I think I vaguely knew he had a family, though I never gave them a thought until this interview. Here, I learn that he read to his kids at breakfast. “Which was a great thing,” he says in his Kevin Henkes way, “because I would read to both of them and my wife would be making the lunches so all four of us had this shared experience.”
I sigh. He reads to kids at breakfast and his wife makes the lunches and they have a Shared Experience. Do they know how lucky they are? And then I think: I read to my kids at breakfast some! My husband wasn’t making the lunches while I was doing so, since he leaves before the rest of us are up, but we as a family have other Shared Experiences around books, yes we do! So, Kevin Henkes and I have something in common! There’s that!
Then I learn that they’ve kept a list in the back hall of all the books they read together, “120 and some books.”
My heart sinks. We do not have a back hall. I have not kept a list. I’m sure we’ve read 120-some books together, but I do not have a list in a back hall to prove it. I find myself wondering how the list was kept in the back hall. I imagine Kevin Henkes’ children scribbling titles on the wall, his wife wallpapering with bookcover photos, him slipping small scraps of paper with titles in a chinked wall of rock. Can you have a back hall made of rocks?
I call myself back to reality. It doesn’t matter how Kevin Henkes and his lucky family keep their list. It doesn’t even matter that they’ve kept the list. Not really. What matters is the Shared Experience. I feel sure Kevin Henkes would agree with me. And my family and I have the Shared Experience of books read together—hundreds of books read together, especially if you count all the times we read Kevin Henkes’ mouse books.
There’s a part of me that wants to recreate the list—find a wall somewhere in the house (I’m quite taken with the “back hall” aspect of this) to scribble all of the titles of books we’ve read together. But it wouldn’t be accurate—it’d be like marking the kids’ heights as they grew on the kitchen doorframe now that they’ve grown. (Another nostalgic record keeping I wish I’d done.)
So I will kvell in the Shared Experience—I’m so grateful for all the time we’ve read together, whether I have a list in the back hall or in a journal to show for it or not.