Abby had a mandatory book to read over the summer before starting Grade 8. There was also a list of optional second books. We ignored them all and decided Abby should read Of Mice and Men because a) it’s a classic and b) it’s short.
But first I re-read it myself so I’d be able to discuss it with Abby. I borrowed a truly handsome copy from the library that I set about reading and spilling coffee on. I then passed it on to Abby to read and hopefully take the blame for the stains.
Short or not, Steinbeck is another world these days, and for a reluctant reader he can still be tricky. So I waited patiently for Abby to reach the ending so we could review it, but did not hesitate to point out that the character of Lennie is the basis for the Abominable Snowman character in Loony Tunes.
Finally, I asked Abby, “Did you finish your book?”
“Yes,” she said.
“So do you understand? What happened? What George had to do?”
“I think so.”
“You know he killed Lennie, right? Like the dog earlier in the book? A mercy killing. To save him from the horrors of the mob. Killing him kindly, with the visions of the rabbit farm the last happy thought he has. Because George loves Lennie.”
The human condition. Wisdom imparted. Mission accomplished.
Later on, her mother asked the same question: “Abby, did you finish your book?”
“I have one chapter left.”
But! But! Why did you…? You said…! I just spoiled the ending. I just ruined Of Mice and Men.
Teaching young people to read is important. Teaching them to listen to the question: ditto.
Speaking of listening, I’m back on CBC Radio’s “Breakaway” every two weeks. Here’s my latest audio column for you star-gazers.