The Coral Island

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.

Here it is.

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.

He laughed.

“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.

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