With nine days left before my boys head back to school, our afternoons have become suddenly peaceful. The electric guitar lays silent, the television screen is dark, and no one is trying to kill anyone on Call of Duty. The brothers have retreated to their respective serene corners of the house – Chase on the big chair in the den, Noah in his room – each with a carefully selected book. They are engrossed in the words, intensely taking it all in, and anxiously turning the pages.
A parent’s dream? A Norman Rockwell scene? A testament to the fine upbringing they have received? Or….
HOLY SHIT THEY ONLY HAVE NINE DAYS LEFT TO FINISH THEIR SUMMER READING ASSIGNMENTS!!!!!!!
Yes, MoB readers, we are, of course, talking about the latter. At this rate, if they read 1000 pages each day for the next week, they will have completed their assignments by the time they return to the hallowed halls of public school. Actually, it is not that bad, maybe they only have to read 100 pages a day. But that’s not exactlygood either. Like every red-blooded American teenager, they put this reading off until the very last minute. And like every red-blooded American parent, Dave and I let them procrastinate. Summer came around and we were so tired of nagging them about homework, we embraced the laissez faire attitude for weeks, only to bring on the heavy wrath and threats of solitary confinement in these last few days. It may seem harsh, but let me tell you, these fellas have it GOOD.
When I was a kid, our summer reading consisted of SIX classics every year. We read Dickens, Hardy, Salinger, Bronte, Hemingway, Dreiser, Twain, Orwell, Steinbeck and Lewis. Some I loved, others not so much. And it was always a struggle to finish in those last few days, the pragmatics resorting to Cliff Notes in preparation for the test that was promised on the first day of school but usually didn’t happen until the fifth. Summer reading was stressful back then, even for those of us who were on top of it. But today?
My boys each have to read TWO books from a wide selection of choices – many which can also be rented on Netflix. (Even Cliff Notes are considered burdensome! Oh, the humanity!) Noah
has read is reading The Life of Pi and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. By next week, with any luck Chase will have toiled through The Hunger Games and The Lost Hero (Percy Jackson).
If you want to talk Dystopia, gimme a little 1984! My child is going to grow up thinking that Big Brother is a reality TV show, for Peeta sakes! Ignorance is Strength. Indeed.
And that boy on the raft with a tiger which may or may not be real? The Old Man and the Sea would crush that kid with just one look and a shot of dragon breath that comes with days of hopeless hanging on to a large fish and no time to brush. Whatever happened to good old fashioned despair and incredibly bleak and depressing endings?
It feels like our schools have gone soft, almost as if they have surrendered to an age when books don’t matter as much as entertainment. My son’s summer reading assignments desperately scream, “PLEASE READ SOMETHING! ANYTHING!” And even that they can’t get to until there are nine days left until school starts.
The summer reading rite of passage has been newly paved and significantly shortened. And while the new curriculum makes it easier on our kids and us parents, I miss the olden days. The tattered paperback books I toiled through in the 1980s remain part of my library today. And occasionally as I’m scanning my shelves for something worthy, my eyes will fall upon the various book spines and I’ll smile. I really want my guys to be able to understand what I mean when I suggest that a party was all Lord of the Flies or how, after a few days without showering or changing clothes I might resemble Miss Havisham.
Maybe I’ll treat them to these books over the next few years. If nothing else, it might inspire them to buy the Cliff Notes, which in my old fashioned academic opinion, is better than taking the road to a “theater near you.”