Magazine article The New Yorker

Where Is Luckily

Magazine article The New Yorker

Where Is Luckily

Article excerpt

WHERE IS LUCKILY

One favored story tells of a family moving into a lighthouse, of the birds that die flying into its beacon, of a buoy that turns out to be a floating mine. Alongside the through-line of gross mismanagement of public facilities is that of the father's ongoing failure to meet his lighthouse goal: to write an epic novel of the sea. The tone of this illustrated story is comic, the color palette like taffy. It's currently the most beloved read of my daughter, who is a toddler. When she sets it down, she turns to a pop-up book about a young sailor who is going to be eaten by his shipmates. She also loves the tragico-instructive tale "Should I Share My Ice Cream?," in which, while the protagonist deliberates extensively about the ethical and gustatory implications of sharing, his beloved ice cream melts, unnoticed. Read children's books enough times, and they start to seem like Shakespeare. Who is Corduroy if not a modern Miranda, full of wonder? What does the boy in "Snowy Day" learn if not that our world is but an insubstantial pageant? The Cat in the Hat is Falstaff, and Max, that wild thing on the heath, longs, Lear-like, for the kingdom of real love that he failed to recognize.

Or not. My daughter and I don't read her books in quite the same way. "Where is 'luckily'?" she asks. If I often experience her books as mock-epic, she sees language poetry. She doesn't read for what happens next, I think, even as she has taken on her preschool teacher's lilting "What's going to happen?" before turning a page. What happens next is often just another random animal at the zoo. Some of the books have plots, but she reads them more like eternal landscapes. In that sense, nothing is happening, and she reads for that nothing, I think. I don't really know my daughter's heart; she doesn't, either. Last night, in her sleep, she called out, "I don't want a balloon!" What happens next?

"Remember when we used to read that book?" my daughter asked yesterday. She was talking about "Moby-Dick." I mean, "Moby-Dick" for kids--it's "Moby-Dick" in ten words. I mean, I guess that's what she was talking about. It's hard to tell if she's just miming something I forgot I said to her. Remember? Is she nostalgic, at two and a half, for way back when?

My memory of my childhood home is that the main source of reading material was the inspirational quotes on the Celestial Seasonings tea boxes. …

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