Jackie Collins died this past week. And while she is not necessarily my favorite author, she means something to me. Jackie Collins symbolizes what I consider one of my mom’s best parenting decisions—one that I strive to emulate today.
I was a kid who loved to read. I’d stay up late at night with a single bed lamp lighting my paperback long after the house had quieted down. I worked my way through Beverly Clearly and Judy Blume and most of the Sweet Dreams imprint (you 80s children may remember those). And yes, some time during middle school, I had my Jackie Collins phase.
At the time I devoured “Hollywood Wives” and “Hollywood Husbands” and the whole Lucky Santangelo series, though I can barely remember even one plot point of any of them now. What I do remember, however, is that my mom never discouraged or forbade my reading these books. Unlike one friend, who at a sleepover party revealed to us a copy of her Jackie Collins book hid under her pillow, I never had to hide my books from my mom.
Instead, Mom would accompany me to the local library and let me choose whatever I wanted, regardless of its literary value. She didn’t even mind when my older cousin gave me her copy of “Forever,” dog-eared where the main character Katherine meets Ralph (again, some of you know exactly who, or shall I say what, Ralph is).
Mom was happy I was reading. She was available if I had any questions. And, that was that. I am convinced that her allowing me to pick and choose what I read when I was younger helped me develop into the reader I am now. One who loves a variety of genres including literary fiction, memoir, and of course the occasional guilty pleasure, or what I euphemistically call “beach books.”
Now I am the mom who is lucky enough to have a reader as a child. Like I did years ago, my 9-year-old son is the one who stays up late with a book in hand. My husband and I always laugh when a teacher assigns homework of reading at least 20 minutes a day since our son usually reads at least an hour or more without any prompting from us or his teachers.
But, again like me before him, our son’s taste may not always be—oh, how shall I say it?—of the most literary nature. I’ve gotten recommendations from friends, newspapers, and our local librarians for books and series he might like given what he has already read and enjoyed. Together we have enjoyed a few bedtime read alouds that he might not have gotten into on his own. But when it comes to choosing his own books, he gravitates towards his old standbys—his comic books and graphic novels—even if it means rereading the same books over and over and over again.
I’m not trying to bash those books or say they are bad. In fact, they’ve influenced him so much that for the past five months he has written and drawn a daily comic strip, and I love that he’s developing this talent and hobby. Hey, I’m the mom who took her kids on a pilgrimage to Plainsville, MA just to visit An Unlikely Story, the bookstore owned by Jeff Kinney, author of the “Dairy of A Wimpy Kid” series. But a little diversity of genre, new characters and story lines, more challenging vocabulary, and introduction to some weightier themes and issues would be welcome.
Every time I see my son rereading his “Big Nate” books, instead of the chapter books suggested by our local librarian, I remind myself to just be grateful that he loves to read. To remember that through school, my encouragement, and maybe even his own curiosity, he will be exposed to new genres and authors in time, and that as he matures, so will his taste in books.
I remind myself that even I went through my Jackie Collins phase.