A few year's ago I saw one of my children reading Quirky Kids, a book for parents of children who have issues, but not severe life-disrupting disabilities. Things like high-functioning autism, Asperger syndrome, or just some vague mishmash of behaviors that meant they weren't exactly typical, but no one really could give an exact name to why. She was really poring over it, studying it, leaving it on the back of the toilet, that sort of thing. When I got up the courage to ask her why she was reading it, she said she liked the italicized parts, which were the stories from the families of the children, how it was to struggle with a particular challenge, say table manners or rages, within their own family.
So: narrative, but within a guide-like framework. OK, I reasoned, but why not just pick up a novel? Some stories? Who knew? Eventually the interest faded.
Then this book came into my life:
It was loaned to me by a very smart woman I know; she thought I would find the parts about books for girls interesting. And I read it. And, well, here's the thing. It's not that they're wrong, that's not the problem at all. For me the problem was one of tone: there is some strange combination of condescending, indignant, and scolding that I found intolerable. (For a similar reaction see smart post here.) It made me want to run out and purchase my girls whorish clothes and manicures…well not really, but it definitely rankled. I have a hard time with people—whether through books or conversations or anything—who are so entirely convinced they are right about things. Especially things having to do with other people—in this case their children—rather than themselves. If they say "I hate peaches," I may think they're crazy, but that's fine, it's their call. But if they say, "Allowing a child to _____ will ruin them," it sticks in my craw.
So what was I to think when that same child showed up reading Packaging Girlhood in the living room? At the kitchen table? Everywhere? I asked about it. "What can I say, I just like parenting books," she said. "Also, it's pretty good. They make a lot of good points."
And here's what's odd: I had a sudden memory of being 14 and compulsively reading—and rereading—Between Parent and Child, and also Between Parent and Teenager. Why did I do it? What compelled me about it? I don't know, I wasn't exactly in a clear frame of mind back then. But it definitely answered some odd ill-defined need.
Now the other child is asking, "Where's that book Why Bright Kids Get Bad Grades? There's a scale of bright kids in it that I really like." What's up? Why are these books even in my house? What does it all mean?
Do your kids read parenting books? Did you? What the heck?