Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Books for Dinner

Calvin and Lucy play the cello, and their cello teacher is a remarkable man. He's an excellent cellist, a wonderful teacher, but he's also a renaissance man. He knows something about everything. While teaching, he pulls out information about the human body, history, fine art, geography, physics, music history, you name it. And he doesn't do so in an egotistical way—it's as if there is a mountain of information just sitting at the tips of his neurons, and he can't help but let some of it escape on a regular basis.

I asked him about his amazing breadth of knowledge, (he has a PHD in Korean Music History and he speaks Spanish and Korean fluently, plus bits and pieces of four other languages, along with several other master's degrees. Plus, he's played cello professionally in the North Carolina and San Francisco Symphonies). "How do you know all this stuff?" I asked him (sounding rather brilliant myself).

He explained that he grew up in a family of seven children. Their father would sit around the dinner table with them explaining the details of the Treaty of Versailles or reciting Beowulf from memory. "We had no idea it was unusual," he said. "We thought all families did that." He then told me that all seven children are unusual in their passions and interests and professions. "Family reunions must be fun," I said. "I can't imagine the conversations," and he replied, "They are fun. We can't stop talking."

I want that for my kids. I want our dinner conversations to be full of the wonder that makes our world the incredible place that it is. I want to fill them with awe at the possibilities for their futures. So the other night I tried it. I'm not knowledgeable enough to be able to talk at any great length about much of anything, so I brought these books to the dinner table:

When is a Planet not a Planet? the story of Pluto by Elaine Scott

And, Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid by Lemony Snicket.
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It was awesome. First, I flipped through the the planet book and we talked about Pluto and the planets and why scientists changed their minds about Pluto. All my children (okay, except for the four-year-old) were awestruck. They loved the pictures, they loved the topic, and so did I.

Then we got silly and read some of Lemony Snicket's truths such as,

A library is like an island in the middle of a vast sea of ignorance, particularly if the library is very tall and the surrounding area has been flooded.


Normally it is not polite to go into somebody's room without knocking, but you can make an exception if the person is dead, or pretending to be dead.

And my personal favorite:

If writers wrote as carelessly as some people talk, 
then adhasdh asdglaseuyt[bn[ 

But interspersed among the silly were also some pretty profound thoughts we had fun discussing:

Love can change a person the way a parent can change a baby—
awkwardly, and often with a great deal of mess.

It is very difficult to make one's way in this world without being wicked at one time or another, when the world's way is so wicked to begin with.

Sometimes even in the most unfortunate of lives 
there will occur a moment or two of good fortune.

And the absolute best:

Never trust anyone
who has not brought
a book with them.

It was an experiment well worth the time and energy. We will do it again; I hope we will do it forever!


  1. You are amazing Linds! At this point in the game I'm just glad to get dinner on the table and all 4 kids -with at least somewhat pleasant faces- sitting at the table. Then if I have the twins happy too....I call it good! Way to go Linds! I'd love to try it sometime....maybe when the twins are not quite so needy all day. ;)

  2. What a neat idea! Thanks for sharing.