On the Virtues of a Dadsplained Literary Childhood

Not too long ago, my daughter asked me to stop reading to her at night. It seems she found out none of her peers were still being read to. She loved getting permission to stay up in bed, with the lights out, crafting with her glow-in-the-dark Rainbow Loom bands, while I read to her from my iPad. The last book I read to her was Wuthering Heights; next on the docket had been The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, and I had chosen it specifically because it features a daughter who benefits unknowingly from, and then grows beyond the need for, her father’s storytelling endeavors. (Alas, that reading was not to be.)

We still sometimes listen to audiobooks on long drives (she has recently requested Sherlock Holmes and The Two Towers). And one night she decided she wanted to practice her cold-reading skills, so she read “An Unexpected Party” from The Fellowship of the Ring. One day when she put down her copy of Pride and Prejudice, joyously burped the alphabet, then went back to reading, I figured I was doing something right.

The NY Times features an essay by an M.D. whose father read great literary works in her childhood, and focuses on how he carefully explained the jokes and cultural context. (By the way, I fixed the misleading clickbait headline  — “Instead of Dumbing Down Shakespeare, Smarten Up the Kids” — for you.)

He read us the entire Tolkien trilogy, back in the days when it was largely a college student classic. He read Jane Austen aloud, and explained the jokes in “Pride and Prejudice.” If you detect a certain Anglophilia, you’d be right; he had the complex cultural aspirations of a smart child of immigrants, growing up on the Lower East Side in the 1920s and ’30s. But he also read aloud — and explained — the plays of Kaufman and Hart and the stories of Damon Runyon. | He didn’t believe that children needed some special subcategory of books. He didn’t think you could take children to see only children’s plays and children’s movies. It was something that my husband, Larry, and I discovered we had in common: We had both, all through our childhoods, been taken matter-of-factly to see adult entertainments. —The New York Times