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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Mothering at Mid-Career: Summer Reading
July 23, 2012 - 4:08pm

When I think of summer, I think of reading. Not of assigned "summer reading," though I'm sure I did my share of that, but of long, lazy days spent moving from one spot to another, nose in book, immersed. I do have a few other recollections--as I mentioned last week, there were some delicious breaks in the routine in the summertime --but for the most part my recollections of summer are recollections of reading. We would often spend a chunk of the summer staying at my grandparents' house in the country, and some of my most vivid memories of childhood summers are of the books that I read in that house. Their collection didn't change much from year to year, so I read my way through Mark Twain and Louisa May Alcott, the Little House books and various animal stories (Rascal, for one, and maybe Ring of Bright Water as well?), whatever was available and not currently being read by some other family member. Some years I may have brought some books with me, but for the most part I read whatever was available and liked it.

This summer I've been thinking a lot about why kids read, when they do, and I realize that I, at least, read in part out of boredom--there wasn't a whole lot to do at my grandparents' house, which was fairly remote and boasted no neighbors of an age to play with--and in part out of a desire for privacy. With three siblings, I had little enough of that, but reading allowed me to be alone in a socially acceptable way. I think Suzy Bishop reads for the same reasons. I think that may be one of the reasons I liked Moonrise Kingdom so much--while I was hardly as rebellious or "troubled" as Suzy, I recognized a kindred soul in her when she opened her suitcase to reveal six library books, which comprise (along with her kitten)  some of the essential supplies she brings along when she runs away from home with Sam Shakusky. I like to think I would have brought the kitten and the books as well.

This summer I'm reading books that bear a striking resemblance to the ones Suzy brings--stories of girls having adventures. I'm making my way through Kristin Cashore's magical Graceling trilogy, for example, all three of which focus on female characters whose adventures rewrite the histories of their world. Earlier this summer I read Cheryl Strayed's Wild, her memoir of hiking a portion of the Pacific Coast Trail. Her adventures may not have changed the world, but they did change her life, and she conveys them in a prose that is both unflinching and beautiful. And in Are You My Mother Alison Bechdel continues the story she began in Fun Home, this time focusing on her relationship with her mother; her adventure is the truly scary internal one of self-discovery.

The books Suzy brings along on her adventure don't really exist. I'm not sure how easy it would have been for Wes Anderson to find six books about girls having adventures that had actually been published by 1965, but surely he could have found a few. But it is precisely the imaginary quality of these books that draws me in. They exist only as props; the one or two paragraphs that Suzy reads out loud are all there are of them, so we are left to imagine the rest. And when I do, I imagine my own summer reading, once again.

(If you enjoyed Moonrise Kingdom, you may like this brief video about Suzy’s books.)



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