The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Books for Babies

By Anne Chudobiak

I don’t like my local library. They have books in lots of different languages, which translates into not much of anything. And then there’s the nefarious “Books for Babies” plan. They encourage parents to bring in their babies and then get upset when these babies get up and walk. “Hey, we said babies, not toddlers. Keep that babbling down.”

For a few years, I wasn’t reading much of anything beyond parenting books (How to Talk..., Raising Your Spirited Child, Siblings without Rivalry), just the basic reading so that I could brave the children’s library without getting into too much trouble. I even tried to donate a parenting manual, but the librarian said that donations were unheard of, impossible. At the time I was upset. Not now. I’m done with manuals.

I’m too behind in the rest of my reading. Do you know that until last year I’d never even heard of Cormac McCarthy? And while we’re being honest, I still haven’t read him.

I finally gave in and got myself a Chapters membership card.

“Do you often buy this many books?” the cashier asked, looking at my pile (Krista Bridge; Short Stuff; and Lust for Life).

“No,” I said. “Never.”

But I was back the next month (Amy Hempel, Elisabeth Harvor, Sheila Heti).

“How much did I save today?” I asked at the cash register.

“Dammit,” I thought when I got home, “I forgot Chekov. I always forget him.”

And that wasn’t the only problem. There was the question of shelf space. It was time for another cull.

“Is this yours?” I asked my husband, holding up Ernest Buckler’s The Mountain and the Valley, a book neither of us had heard of, let alone read. Does anyone else have books like that on their shelves?

The Mountain and the Valley is “a series of illuminations,” “a rural idyll,” “a psychological novel,” part of the canon and a total waste of time. I don’t know where I stand. Let’s just say it’s on my list, beside McCarthy.

The intro, by Claude Bissell, Buckler’s biographer, friend and biggest fan, places the novel in context, a time when Philip Child (winner, if you’re wondering, of the 1950 Governor-General’s award) and serial-writer Mazo de la Roche were the Establishment and Robertson Davies and Mordecai, encroachers, whose work, although exciting at times, paled in comparison with W.O. Mitchell’s Who has Seen the Wind.

I love Mitchell, especially the one about the cranky professor who’s mauled by a bear, but even I can see that Bissell was a critic, not a prophet. Who can predict what will be remembered? Wikipedia, for instance, has a lot more to say about Bissell than it does about Buckler, but you never know, that could change, maybe when my little one goes down for his nap, which should be soon. He’s looking kind of tired.

We were out early this morning, the park, where a lady, modestly dressed--“A Jehovah’s witness?” I thought--laid out a blanket, inviting us to join her.

“I brought books,” she said. I recognized one of them. Toupie. We have it at home. That’s the book they give you when you get your baby a library card.

Montreal libraries. Outreach program.

“What?” she said. “You’re leaving? Already?”


Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Toupie & Beenu (sp?) is a favorite show for my kids! It is shown in English out here but we do have a couple of French Toupie board books. I'm sorry that's the best reading offered by your library though...good luck at Chapters Anne!

Fri Jul 14, 12:09:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

I spend less time in libraries and Chapters now that I'm walking instead of travelling in a car. But the other day I just had a Chapters craving so I took the bus. I spent WAY too much of the money I don't really have and WAY too much time reading magazines.

I'm supposed to be moving. Which essentially means lugging the impulse book and magazine purchases of the previous several decades from one spot to another.

Even libraries don't come without problems for me, because I always end up with outrageous late fees.

I wish I liked nature.

Fri Jul 14, 01:26:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger craig said...

wonderful post Anne

I passed on my addiction to libraries to my kids, and they hung out there a lot. BUt then they noticed how much I REALLY like going to used bookstores. They're hooked.
One of my all time fave activities is taking my two teenagers to one of these places and we stay a LONG time - treating a bit like a library - but we always buy.
If I thought my bookshelves were bursting before...

Sun Jul 16, 12:37:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

This brings back memories of when my kids were little and we hung out in the library. I was also so nervous that they'd dusturb the peace. It was great to find kid-friendly libraries.

Sun Jul 16, 01:07:00 pm GMT-4  

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