One of the immense pleasures I derive from motherhood is watching my daughter read my childhood books. I have a whole cache of dusty paperbacks stowed away in the various closets and crannies of my parents’ house: Roald Dahl, E. Nesbit, Kipling, C. S. Lewis and Lloyd Alexander are just some of the more obvious names, as well as a host of more obscure authors whom nobody seems to have ever heard of, exciting though they were back in the day.
I am frequently astounded by her take on the books which I, in my simple childhood, accepted as divine, as the natural order of things: when she points out that Taran in the Prydain chronicles is a sexist pig, or the children of E. Nesbit are quarrelsome and pretentious, I gape.
I know this is a pleasure that only the Princess will provide me. The Golden Boy is not a reader and I refuse to indulge in parental self-deception and pretend he is. He is a gamer, it is I who have to bend and adapt to his wishes and interest, I who have to promise to learn to play xbox games, so he will miss his beloved summer companions less. So he won’t abandon me as soon as he can.
But back to books. She started on Desiree, a forgotten bestseller of historical fiction, recounting Napoleon’s era from the eyes of his ex-fiancee. When I was at school, the Persian translation of this book was the Twilight of the Iranian schoolyard. We snatched the volume from each other- reading it was a social rite of passage in our middle school. Later on I bought the English translation. I loved that book, and now the Princess is loving it. She reads more joyously than I did, squealing when she gets to the kissy parts. She cares about Napoleon breaking up with poor provincial Eugenie Clary. I cannot remember how I felt, or if I felt anything at all when I read and re-read those pages so voraciously, twenty and more years ago, though I recall being impressed with the gruesome description of childbirth. But I can’t remember squealing and laughing at the kissy and lovey parts. We want to get into each other’s heads through these books, but I am not sure that we can.