Next to my bed, under the nightstand, and under a stack of books that I’d like to have read already, there’s a little basket for things that don’t have a place anywhere else: an Oscar Wilde book, a pair of socks, some comic books, old issues of Wired and New Yorker, a baseball hat, and a sweatband.
And then there’s a copy of R.M. Ballantyne’s “The Coral Island”, a book that I read a dozen times as a boy. Every once in a while I take it up and ask Son if he’d like to read it, but so far, Harry Potter and the Three Detectives have always pulled him stronger.
The last time I asked him, and launched into my speech about the book and how much I liked it, a piece of paper fell out.
“The name of the book is ‘The Coral Island’, and I liked it because there was a lot of action in the story. Also, Ballantyne wrote it in first person which captured at least my attention,” said the note, apparently written for a school presentation in the nicest handwriting of the ten-year-old me.
Neither the story nor my note – both written in first person, mind you – caught Son’s attention.
I didn’t let that stop me so I read almost half of the first chapter to him. I used different voices for different characters, and I used my dramatic voice. I even used some props, but Son was unimpressed.
“Yeah, well, can’t we just read Harry Potter,” he said.
“But after Harry Potter?” I said, with a glimmer of hope in my voice.
“Don’t get your hopes up,” Son said, turning off the glimmer.
“I know why you don’t want to read it. I know it. A-ha, a-ha. I know, you’re scared,” I replied, in a desperate effort to trick him into agreeing to read The Coral Island with me instead, just to prove me wrong.
“That was such a desperate effort to trick me into agreeing to read The Coral Island with you instead, just to prove you wrong,” he said.
“It really is a great book. It’s got everything: adventure, humor, animals, human psychology, more adventure,” I said.
“But it’s old,” Son said.
“Lots of old books are great. Harry Potter is older than you,” I tried.
“But not older than you,” Son said.
We were silent for a while. He was under the covers reading a comic book, I was sitting by the side of the bed, trying to think if I’d have another trick up my sleeve. I looked there but didn’t see anything.
“How old is ‘The Coral Island’ anyway?” Son asked me then.
I looked at the note from the ten-year-old me.
“Well, it says here the author died in 1894, so before that. Maybe in 1875,” I said, making up a fact on the spot.
“You just made that up,” Son said.
“Yes, I did. It doesn’t matter. It’s a great book, and it’d be fun to read it with you,” I said.
“Maybe after Harry Potter,” he said, and went to his room with his comic book.
“Great!” I said, and then went into my office to google for some facts.
Ten minutes later, I walked to Son’s room.
“It was published in 1857. Never been out of print since. Good night,” I whispered from the door, but he had already fallen asleep.
I went to the bedroom, and tossed “The Coral Island” back into the basket under my nightstand. It’ll have to wait. For now.