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The latest installment(s) of the Rebelsky Family Reading Group (#1119)

Topics/tags: Autobiographical

The Rebelsky Family Reading Group met twice during winter break. For those who are not long-term readers or for those who don’t immediately remember all the details of my life expressed in these musings, the Rebelsky Family Reading Group is a practice our family adopted a few years ago when I suggested that everyone read Carol Dweck’s Mindset. As is the case in most reading groups, we pick a book, read it [1], and then discuss it. We try to order pizza for the meeting.

We rotate who chooses the book. I pick, then Michelle, then Eldest, then Middle, then Youngest, and then back to me again.

It became harder to have reading group meetings as the kids scattered across the country, but we’ve managed. For example, I recall one meeting in Eldest Son’s living room in Cleveland. We planned a meeting for this winter break, and Youngest had chosen the book. Youngest chose Catch 22, but we all found that were behind on reading. So he switched to _The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which we all managed to read in one day [2].

I’d been looking ahead to this time and made plans for my choices. I chose two picture books [3]. At first, my family rejected this idea. But then they, too, realized the potential joys of doing a second session of RFRG, and they acquiesced [4].

So, what did I chose? I started with Maurice Sendak’s Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must Be More To Life. Why that book? I recalled it fondly as a favorite from childhood. I love Sendak in general, and that one seemed less popular than most, certainly less so than Pierre or One Was Johnny or perhaps any of The Nutshell Library, less popular than Where The Wild Things Are or In The Night Kitchen [5].

But one picture book didn’t seem like enough, so as I second I picked David Macaulay’s Baaa. Why that book? It’s a book from my young adulthood [6]. Macaulay’s black-and-white artwork bears some distant relationship to Sendak’s. I appreciate that someone who writes regularly about the wonders of technology would write such a dystopian tale. Plus, Soylent Green! And there’s the summary in the Library-of-Congress description,

After the last person has gone from the earth, sheep take over the world, make the same mistakes as man, and eventually they too disappear.

What was it like reading the books fifty and thirty-five years since I first read them? I still like the pictures. I still like the stories. They also resonate in different ways than they did when I first encountered them. While I don’t expect our government to react to riots in the same way as in Baaa, I have been surprised by how far one part will go to get its way. And, as someone said, Higglety Pigglety Pop seems to be how a greedy, overprivileged, narcissist goes out into the world, abuses those around them, and achieves even more success. Wow, that seems familiar, doesn’t it?

I prefer a different reading. In the end, Higglety Pigglety Pop is about forsaking comfort for exploration, detaching yourself from your possessions, and becoming willing to sacrifice yourself for another. I’m not sure I’ve learned those lessons well enough, but I take them as goals worth pursuing.

In retrospect, I’m not sure that picture books were the best choice. While we were able to read them quickly and I enjoyed reading them again [7], we didn’t seem to get into the depth of discussion that we often reach.

What’s next? Michelle will choose. Then Eldest. Then Middle. Then Youngest. By then, I should have a new choice ready. Probably something a bit longer. Possibly something with fewer pictures.

[1] Well, most of us read it. I seem to always read too slowly.

[2] A Thursday, to be precise. That has some meaning relative to the book.

[3] You might call them graphic novellas or some such. I’m calling them picture books.

[4] Perhaps they were worried about what else I might choose. I suggested Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon, and a collection by Borges. I was also considering R. F. Kuang’s The Poppy War and Greil Marcus’ The History of Rock n Roll in Ten Songs. Come to think of it, I hadn’t thought about rock books. Maybe next time I’ll choose Stranded.

[5] Is In The Night Kitchen banned? Should it be?

[6] It came out while I was in college.

[7] And looking at the pictures.

Version 1.0 released 2021-01-01.

Version 1.0.2 of 2020-01-02.