I briefly worked with an editor who used to say, "God is in the details," which was, I thought at the time,  Henry James. (Oops, it turns out it's Ludwig Mies van der
Rohe who said it. Never mind, I'm sure Henry James said something equally significant-seeming.)

Anyway, I pretty much thought it was true, at least sometimes, at least sort of. Now, however, I've morphed from that into fervent and total belief of the "Holy crap, changing one small
seemingly insignificant and unrelated things makes a massive difference
in everything around you" sort.

All this is apropos chatting with a dad at after school pick up time. Their family, he was telling me, had just moved to a larger apartment, which is reportedly
excellent, with one unexpected advantage. The child—an eight-year-old boy—has his own, much bigger,
room now. They moved all his stuff into his new room, and arranged everything as it seemed to make the most sense, part of which has made his bookshelf suddenly near the bed. And voila—just like that, he has become a

This is a kid who is heavily heavily into Pokemon. Also video games, DS games, etc. He also has some learning and developmental issues. He just didn't seem like he was going to be a big reader, it hadn't presents itself yet, at any rate. But somehow now that when he is lying on his bed he has  books  close enough to
him to reach out and touch, he does. He picks them up and reads. A lot.

I find this both exciting and perplexing. I spend about 80% of my life writing
things off or talking things down when I can't quite manage to make them exactly as I want or think they should be: "Oh, that's not a big deal, why
should that matter, what's the big difference?" But with something like
this, I am reminded that everything makes a difference.

It makes me think, too, of the cavalier attitude I have about
dismissing various anthologies and other books. If the kids really want
to find poetry, they will, I've said. But what about the kids who don't
know they really want to read? What about putting something near enough
someone that they might find it? It seems eminently worth it.

So what does it all mean? Propinquity trumps all? Feng shui will save the world? We're lazy enough to do ourselves a good turn once in a while? Put bad things very high and out of reach? I don't know. But I found this whole situation oddly comforting. Here's hoping I can pass that on.

4 thoughts on “Propinquity

  1. I am a big believer in this. Not exactly in having the books by the bed, but in making it easy for kids to do what you want them to do. If there’s a giant TV in the living room, and all the toys are up in their rooms, well, what do you suppose they are going to spend their lives doing? If all the books are instantly tucked away on a shelf somewhere, are they really going to get read? But if you leave the new library books lying on the couch, or on their bedside tables, then the kids are much more likely to pick them up.


  2. It’s true that the books you happen on yourself are the sweetest. I recently read Laura Miller’s book on Narnia and she was all lyrical about the teacher who had recommended them specially for her, but I don’t remember any moments like that. I do remember stealing my sister’s Narnia set, though, and rifling through my stepmother’s SF collection, and the library shelves where I discovered all the dusty old Oz books.


  3. My 8-yo is EXTREMELY stubborn about trying books by unfamiliar authors. But I’ve come to find that if I bring them home from the library and place them around the house or in her book basket, they eventually get read. Then next time we go to the library, she’ll seek out more. She likes to do things on her own terms, so if I make new things available and accessable (art supplies, outdoor equipment), it allows her the freedom to explore when she’s ready.


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