I like Connie Willis. If you’ve never heard of Connie Willis, well, you’re just like the guy in my local bookshop, except that you probably don’t work in a bookshop so the fact that she’s a really great and popular and quite prolific fantasy writer is not a travesty. But he, he was a travesty. I don’t know why Books-A-Million is still alive when all the Borders Books in the area have closed down.
Anyway. This is a very long lead-in to what will probably turn out to no longer be a remotely funny anecdote when I finally get around to it. And I’m not there yet, you’ll have to wait.
I don’t get in a lot of reading these days, and when I do it goes in fits and starts. It’s usually an author I know and love, because I don’t have the patience right now to try out books that might be anything less than great. I’ll happily re-read old favourites rather than attempt something new – hence the total revisiting of Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey’s relationship earlier this year. But I discovered that Connie Willis had written a new* book – in fact, two – and put them on my birthday list. B gave me Blackout for my birthday, and I saved it to read on the way to BlogHer. I finished it last week and discovered that it’s not so much the first in a series of two, as half a story, the other half of which is another whole (even fatter) book called All Clear. So of course I had to get my hands on All Clear ASAP, without even waiting for Amazon.
This is why we ended up visiting two bookshops in two days, and why Dash ended up getting two new books in two days, even though there’s a perfectly lovely library with plenty of reading matter right there in our town. (Mabel also got one new book.) The first bookshop didn’t have any Connie Willis at all (see above), but Dash still had to get something, and he chose a National Geographic Kids book on tigers. The next day in a much better-stocked Barnes & Noble, he picked up a National Geographic Kids book on Martin Luther King and was all excited, so who was I to deny my son the reluctant reader such an educational item?
[Here, just to keep up the thrilling suspense (ahem), let me mention how great those National Geographic Kids books are. Dash is a bright, curious kid with a great vocabulary, but his reading level is not high. So trying to keep him engaged with a book that’s easy enough for him not to stumble over every word is often a struggle, because so many of the first readers are insultingly simple. He likes the “I Can Read” superhero books, and they are at a good (easy) level for him, but he also has a selection of the National Geographic ones, and those are what he looks for now in the bookstore.
Oh God, now I’ve built it up so much that I’m afraid to tell my piddly little story.
Schoolkids in America know all about Martin Luther King. The Civil Rights Movement is heavily featured in kindergarten, if not before. Even the nursery-school attendees know about him, thanks to Martin Luther King day in January every year. As an Irish schoolchild, I did not have Martin Luther King anywhere on my radar, but I must have heard his name somewhere along the line.
So at the start of secondary school (seventh grade) our history teacher began by looking at the pictures on the front cover of our textbook, Renaissance and Reformation, I think it was called, and asking if anyone knew what was depicted. Looking at a drawing of an oldy-timey man with long hair hammering a scroll to a wooden door, something I had seen or read elsewhere came back to me, and I tentatively raised my hand.
I was diffident but smug: “Is it Martin Luther… King?”
As I said the first two words, it had occurred to me that there was often another one appended. Adding the “King” was an afterthought, really. I thought it would make me sound even cleverer.
Sadly, one word makes all the difference. My teacher went from admiration to amusement in the space of that single syllable. (Though really, she should have been doubly impressed: I knew two historical people, after all, even if I didn’t realise it myself.)
This morning I was recounting the story to B, who somehow had never heard it before. Dash wanted to know as well. “You knew about Martin Luther King too?” he asked, incredulous.
Whereupon B had to get all smartypants: “Martin Luther King TWO? There’s a sequel? ‘He’s back and he’s mad.'”
*New as in three years ago, apparently.