Parents of multiple children can’t help but compare and contrast their offspring. I like to notice the ways my two boys are alike, because noting their differences often leads to the temptation to wish one could be more like the other, and if I’m going to pressure them to follow another child’s model, I want more well-behaved examples to point at.
There is a world of difference between the habits of a one-year-old and those of a four-year-old. Despite the age difference, there is one activity in which my boys take common delight.
Apparently, children of all ages find endless joy in pulling the bookmark out of the book their father is reading and replacing it between randomly selected pages in the book.
I am, or rather, I was, an avid reader. I used to tear through history books like there was nobody tugging on my arm or crying in my ear. I used to devour the classics like a man who need not condemn anybody to bed at an unjustly early hour, and then hear fifteen different appeals of the sentence as the night wears on.
One summer, I devoted a couple of months to reading Shelby Foote’s Civil War trilogy. If I tried to tackle those thousands of pages today, it would take me longer to read The Civil War than it took Lincoln’s reluctant generals to fight it. I would be a sorry historian to declare that The Civil War lasted eight years. But there were lots of extended breaks.
The irony is that before I had children, I didn’t rely so heavily upon bookmarks as I do now. Back then, I read so often that I could easily remember my place without a flag directing me where to resume. Now, I might go weeks between reading sessions. I need bookmarks not only to remind me what page I was on, but also which book I was reading.
There must be something about a little nub of paper or Mylar, or even a strand of lint, sticking out of a book that hypnotizes a child with the desire to pull it out. It does not matter how plain the bookmark appears, it still portrays itself as a magical tab that must be pulled. I might as well install buttons on my books and expect little boys not to push them.
In the end, a bookmark is a boring plaything. The boys rediscover this as soon as it is free of the book. Little brother might toss his disappointment to the four winds or hide it somewhere within the book, as the mood strikes him. Big brother has been yelled at enough that he covers his tracks by replacing the marker between pages, any pages.
Thus, I find myself wondering why some books are so repetitive, while others seem to leave huge gaps in the narrative. I’ve read a few books over the past several years in which the sequence of events was downright bizarre. Some men my age have mid-life crises. Not me. I’m just going through my post-modern phase.