When I think of Mothers Day and my mother today Sunday May 14, 2023, I predictably think about her excellent mandel bread recipe and her succulent and savory veal osso bocco but also, on occasion her memory reminds me about growing up in a home with books, encyclopedias, newspapers and “proper bedroom lighting”. Reading was encouraged in the family and my Mom believed that everyone should have their own designated desk lamp and “proper wall lighting” for reading in bed. Both my parents were “first in their family” college graduates and as a suburban North Shore Chicago Jewish family I guess they took the “People of the Book” thing (and tennis) somewhat seriously. In fact, once upon a time long long ago i remember thinking even as a hopelessly disorganized, hyperactive and easily distracted kid with undiagnosed ADHD that I wanted to be a “famous writer” like Thoreau …or maybe a successful yet mysterious author (as opposed to a downright reclusive novelist like Salinger) of some wildly popular book on the New York Times best seller list.
Growing up in Highland Park, Illinois, my parents not only had a “mud room” but a combination den/library/study upstairs. The study had a glass topped desk where my Dad spent seemingly endless hours diligently opening the mail and then paying all the bills each night but also a library area with adjustable bookshelves crammed full of both hard and soft back books and encyclopedias galore. Late at night I would swipe books from the study to read in bed, preferably ones I probably wasn’t supposed to read like Candy by Terry Southern or thumb through the 1960 World Book Encyclopedia, either to find something to plagiarize for my still unfinished homework or to check out the creepy transparent pages of the human anatomy section. Who knew that the male gonads (testicles) looked like that if you sliced them wide open like a ripe Georgia peach? My mom, much to my perpetual annoyance would come into my bedroom often unannounced and ask, “Can you read like that?”
I would respond with a monotone “yes” but of course the real answer was no and now I cant see worth shit ….probably from squinting in the dark as well as not staying hydrated and then lying repeatedly about both things. As a result, I now rely on dozens of reading glasses both expensive prescription ones and dollar store variety which I lose on a daily if not hourly basis.
My parents were also daily subscribers of the Chicago SunTimes newspaper which was fine by me because it’s compact book shape design was much easier to hold and turn its pages as a clumsy klutzy kid compared to most other unwieldy big city newspapers. Plus, you could flip the Sun Times daily paper over in one deft move to check all the professional sports scores which in Chicago is a big deal. Da Bears!
The Sunday New York Times, however, was a whole ‘nother mainstream media Moby Dick in plastic wrap kind of paper. It arrived on our paved suburban driveway on weekends by some still unknown method of transportation or teleportation, a massive and wholly intimidating conglomeration of erudite articles, editorials, and assorted magazine supplements. Once lugged into the house like an oversized fireplace log or slumbering paper tiger and released from its multiple layers of plastic wrap, rain protection and rubber bands the entire thing seemed to move and slide about on its own volition as if in a feigned attempt to escape its ravenous Sunday morning readers or after breakfast hide itself on the floor somewhere under the already overburdened living room coffee table.
On Sundays my mother would often make matzah brei with eggs for breakfast or they would order in special deli “lox boxes” with fresh delicatessen bagels and cream cheese. Later on my parents would casually spread out to read the Sunday paper and we would pretend to do the same.
Even today, all these many years later I still consider the Sunday NYT with it’s superb editorials and Book Review magazine to be a pleasant reminder of my 60’s era childhood and a leisure luxury best enjoyed in bed with hot coffee and a fresh pastry of some kind. Like the secret sect of nomadic “book people” in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, reading the Sunday paper is almost like a print journalism spiritual pilgrimage or a quasi-religious ritual practiced by fewer and fewer endangered species of bibliophiles, or alternatively print media dinosaurs from some long ago pre-digital time in history well before TikTok and texting took over as the apex predators of our social norms and our human brain’s primary dopamine-seeking reward pathways.
Basically my personal reading ritual involves first sorting through the entire NYT pile of papers and immediately throwing out all the annoying ads and so called “fluff” and then lying back down in my bed to read it all…not counting the infamous NYT crossword puzzle that I’ve never ever gotten even close to finishing.
To me the NYT crossword puzzle, something I’ve observed many other otherwise normal looking people do in cafes, on airplanes, commuter trains and city buses was a mind-bending nerve-wracking head spinning exercise in frustration equally impossible to finish as running an ultra marathon or climbing Mt. Everest without oxygen. If you EVER want to feel instantly dumb consider this published fact about the NYT’s crossword…and I quote Google my scholarly source, “the best puzzle people can finish the NYT crossword in 8-12 minutes”. Whaaat? That’s completely insane. I also just now found out that there is a specific word in the english language for people who are good at solving crossword puzzles and that specific word is cruciverbalist. Save that one for a college entrance autobiographical essay or some future game of Scrabble.
Lastly I will now mention a dirty secret I have been keeping to myself. Even tho I talk about the New York Times like I’m some smart smarmy semi-retired Baby Boomer intellectual type who reads voraciously and understands everything about the many books reviewed so eloquently in the NYT magazine to the plethora of beautifully written news articles and editorials about politics, fashion, economics, technology, planetary science, quantum physics not to mention psychology/therapy and neuroscience…actually I hardly ever have the time, inclination or concentration required to finish but a modest few of any of them…if I’m lucky. Normally, the bulk of the NYT Sunday paper minus its annoying ads sits idle on my bedside or dining room table looking slightly disheveled and forlorn while I drive to Lowes to get more brown mulch or back to Publix to get more chicken thighs and the pharmacy prescription I forgot like a dummy earlier. If I am lying in bed I’m more likely doing what most lazy people do in 2023. I’m watching TikTok, checking out who went to Greece on Facebook or Instagram (and pretending to not be jealous) or God forbid I’m watching another totally stupid but addicting Naked and Afraid episode on TV. Dr. pimple Popper is pretty good too. If anything I’m more like the complacent but happy Eloi tribe of the future in my favorite 1960 sci-fi movie The Time Machine “Books? Yes we have books…”. Meanwhile their books are crumbling to dust and they get their news from the “spinning rings”. Cellphone news updates much? There I said it. OK, I gotta go now. It’s Mothers Day and I have to go get the NYTimes from the driveway while looking for my glasses which I think may have fallen off while I was spreading mulch. Happy Mothers Day Mom!