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I want books to be your sunlight

Editor's Note: This is one in a series of occasional columns by reporter Ryan Pfeil as he documents the impending arrival of his first child. To see others in the series, read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/pocketprotector

Dear Bethany,

Your great-grandma thought your grandma was crazy.

I was the crux of it — newborn, helpless, unable to escape her grasp as she read me Beatrix Potter stories about a young rabbit who doesn't do what he's told and the curmudgeonly gardener he torments.

Obviously I remember none of this. I was like you then. I stared at the pages and drooled as your grandma's voice sounded in my ears. Your great-grandma was not impressed, said I didn't understand a word. Your grandma contested that. On some level, she knew I did. A scholar lurked behind all that drool.

Whether that's true — news flash — it's going to be the same way with you.

Here's why: Because for you, I want reading to be the norm.

This isn't a PSA on the benefits of reading to kids at a young age. I'll leave the advice columns to the advice columnists, the mass-literacy encouragement to the librarians and English teachers of the world.

All I know is that when it comes to you and how often you have a book open, I want it to be almost like breathing; consistent, frequent, vital. The way Superman needs sunlight.

Forget all the other positive attributes of being a lifelong reader. You make memories along the way. Really. I know this from experience, from the fact I still remember the when and where of some of my favorites.

Your grandpa read me "The Hobbit" when I was 6 or 7 years old. And when I say "read," I mean "channeled his inner Orson Welles." His voice caught fire. I took over with "Lord of the Rings" a couple years later because of his delivery. Then I did it again.

"Frankenstein," the first book I ever loved that I had to read for school, sticks out, too. I reread it coming home from a recent trip. I'm hoping you'll understand how demented and lovely it is someday.

I could devote another letter entirely to every Dennis Lehane book ever written. His characters have clear distinctions when it comes to who's good and who's evil. But he never forgets the shades of gray, those murky characteristics that add dimension and have made me self-examine more than once.

Then there are the stories writers didn't have to make up. My two factual favorites have the word "devil" in them. "The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson introduced me to a world where nonfiction could be interesting. "The Devil's Highway" by Luis Alberto Urrea opened the door even farther. I read it straight through as I journeyed through three different airports. I'm still jealous of how every word, every sentence is arranged. It's less a true story and more of a jazz record.

When it comes to you, Bethany, there are a few basic things I'm hopeful for: that you're happy, that you feel safe, that you're kind, that at least one thing in life fascinates you to the point where you'll never stop chasing it. And that you're always reading and making linguistic memories along the way.

The end.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.