Friday, April 26, 2013

Memories of a Bedtime Book Club

Ed Koren
The wine boxes and masking tape are out, because I’ve begun to pack up the last, best books in my children’s picture book library.
This is an overdue task. They’re 13 and 15 now and we haven’t read aloud to them in years. We’ve kept this final stack at hand out of undiluted nostalgia. Moving it into the attic shouldn’t be a big deal. But it is.
In the past, when I’ve had to pack my personal library, what I’ve boxed are talismans of intense yet essentially private experience. Picture books aren’t like this. When you’re putting away these square, dog-eared, popcorn-butter-stained things, you’re confronting an entire cosmos of collective memory.

Because my wife and I so repeatedly read these favorite picture books aloud — comically, exhaustedly, occasionally inebriatedly — to our children, their words and images have worn grooves into our minds. They occupy places in our family’s shared consciousness as indelibly as do summer vacations, trips to the hospital or injured birds cared for in cardboard boxes.

They’re the fine, weird, uncanny poems we’ve each memorized and carry around in our heads. They’re evocative of some of life’s best things — wet hair, clean pajamas, the end of working days. They’re the last books the four of us are likely ever to read again at anything like the same moment. Our splendid nightly book club has ended its run.

Happily for us, our book club had its Oprah. Her name was Eden Ross Lipson.
Eden was The New York Times Book Review’s longtime children’s book editor, a legend in her field, who died in 2009. When my kids were little, I worked as an editor at the Book Review, and I had the crazy good fortune to possess the desk next to hers. 

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