The complaint was about whether a book given as a birthday present to a young reader had been properly read and appreciated. The complainant, writing to Philip Galanes (NYTimes, Social Qs) was an aunt who had given her niece a copy of a book that had been a childhood favorite of hers. But the niece showed no sign of having read it. The letter writer asked whether or not she should call this slight to the attention of the young reader's parents.
Many of us--especially those of us who are long-distance grandparents--are wandering in the same wilderness as the letter-writing aunt. Not only do we want to know the book we sent was received (and be properly thanked for it) but also that it is now a beloved favorite of the recipient. Actually, some of us are like me and we want more: We'd like to talk about the book with our Grand on Skype or FaceTime or even by text. A book--its plot, its characters, its setting--can be a helpful conversation starter, especially when we live far from our children and are out of the loop of their daily lives. It can be a chance to bond over a mutual love. Or, equally delightful, agree to disagree.
No surprise to report that Galanes does not condone pressuring parents to pressure the child to read the birthday-present book. Let me use his exact words:
"There's a difference between a book report and a birthday present: Your niece may read the book when she likes, but she's not required to....We all have our childhood favorites, but I'd let this one slide. Let your niece discover the book in her own time."
Galanes knows whereof he speaks. And yet I understand the aunt's disappointment. I, too, have sent books to various Grands, and now that some of them are young teens, the range of favorites I want to share with them has expanded exponentially. I send the book. I hear no more. When I go visit, sometimes I tell them why I chose a particular set of books--what it was about them that I found so intriguing. But if I may pat myself on the back (and gain some Galanes approval points)--I don't go any further than that. They'll either find time to read the books or they won't. Maybe two years from now they'll pick one up. Maybe they'll even text with a belated thank you for introducing them to the writer or the story.
Maybe they will. More likely they won't. But they have the books, they came with my imprimatur. That'll have to do.