Still dusting myself off over here after Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. There were about twenty or so theaters in that megaplex, Fantastic Mr. Fox had apparently been cycled out after a couple of weeks, and Alvin and a couple of tragically misguided human actors were occupying every G-rated screen in a forty mile radius. I took three kids – one son, a nephew, a niece – so this set me back about forty dollars, but the damages are otherwise probably fleeting. A couple of years from now, the experience will probably register nothing more than a blip on the Richter graph of fatherhood, of uncle hood, of holidays and movie-days and beyond.
This is a mercy, I suppose, and possibly also a tribute to our abilities as a species to persevere. I’ve seen plenty of dreadful movies which have nevertheless left me with memories – an image or indigestible morsel of dialogue – though I am confident that nothing but a dull humming noise will come to signify those minutes that connected my exiting and re-entering the car, and even that will probably fade in time.
More and more often these days I am struck by the spectacular strangeness of a life I led only a couple of years ago. In hours, in minutes, in errands and naptimes (my children’s), the days as they appeared to me then are almost unrecognizable from the days I am negotiating now - this despite the fact that I live in the very same apartment, rise out of the same creaky bed, get coffee at the identical Starbucks, and log at least two appearances a day in exactly the same schoolyard as I did when my thirteen-year-old was five. This is all middle-age panic, I know, and nothing especially noteworthy. And I’m sure in two years, or in four, the days will probably be racing along so quickly I’ll need Velcro to even stay in my shoes, still any strappy thing that I can find to harness, encompass, or even make some sense of this eventfulness seems like pretty good bang for my buck.
Did I mention we’re selling children’s books here? Some of these things cost as little as a cent. True, somebody’s got to deliver them to you, and usually this costs four dollars, though if you manage it right, two books can be delivered from the same little outfit – Better World Books, say, or Green Earth Books, or Dark Smurf Books (!) – and then even if you can’t, you’ll still have whole heap of money left over to go see Fantastic Mr. Fox.
We do not prescribe books for right ages. (We tried. We failed.) Of course everyone’s children read at different levels, for starters, still even more importantly, any kind of a scale begins to suggest that all of these books are inherently meant to move on from, to graduate, and more often than not the distinction between a book that seems perfect for a three-year-old or a seven-year-old feels like the product of a false - or a slippery – arrangement.
Indeed it’s the titles we remember most clearly because they were so true and so relevant for so long. Forty, and then thirty-five years ago, I was reading Cannonball Simp and The Flying Lesson of Gerald Pelican, somewhere they vanished from my radar, though when they appeared to me again, it was as though I was remembering an alien abduction, their details were that clear. I can’t, I know, speak objectively about the merits of such things, but they stood my test of time, and I am grateful to their creators, and to the geniuses over at Amazon for continuing to make them available. For, respectively, nine and four dollars. A beer can cost you four dollars.
Without Simp, and without Amos & Boris which lasted me nine years between two kids, and without The Mountains of Tibet ($3) and Swan Sky ($2) and Mr. Lunch Borrows a Canoe ($3) and The Wump World ($3) and The Little House ($1) which all covered my “aughts,” and The Ghost of Nicholas Greebe (a penny) and I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew ($5), well, I’d probably be okay, but I am little less lost for their radiance. Everything changes, though we are finally lucky if we are able to recall a time when we did not quite believe it.