Friday, September 5, 2008

Mom, he's reading my books again!: The role that siblings and books play in our lives

My little brother is visiting me so I've been thinking lately about nature versus nurture. My brother and I are complete opposites, yet in some ways we are so similar that it's scary. I know, this is a big topic for a blog that does mostly book reviews. But never fear, it all comes back to books.

My brother and I are opposites in a lot of ways. He's tall, I'm short. He's footloose, I'm rooted. He's outgoing, I'm shy. Despite all that, we're very similar. We both have blue eyes, we have the same political views, we even have some of the same annoying habits, and we love books. We have inside jokes, we finish each other's sentences, we accept each other because of our differences. Nothing emphasizes this more than our book interests.

A few years ago, around the same time and unknown to each other, we read Into Thin Air and Into the Wild, two books by Jon Krakauer. I loved Into Thin Air because it's about people pushing their limits. When it comes to Mount Everest, I'm happy to be an armchair traveler. I enjoyed Into the Wild but I couldn't identify with the main character. I was constantly tripping over the bad decisions that he made. When I discovered that my brother had read the same books, the conversation went a little like this.
Me: Wasn't Into Thin Air exciting and gripping?
Brother: Not really. It's about a bunch of people polluting Everest.
Me: Hmm, I guess so. Well, what about Into the Wild? Wasn't that guy silly for heading into the forest all by himself?
Brother: No! That's one of my favorite books ever! It was so cool how he just went off into the Alaskan wilderness by himself! I'd love to do that!
Me, thinking: oh, no, how can I discourage my brother from disappearing into no man's land and slowly starving himself?
The nurture part of this is that my brother and I stumbled across the same books at almost exactly the same time and enjoyed the author's writing style. Why? Who knows, maybe it's because we'd each read A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins shortly before that and were on a travel writing kick. Growing up, we read a lot of the same books and so that probably influenced our book preference. The nature part of this is how differently we interpreted the same books. I'm happy to live near, work with, and work around other people. For me, Into Thin Air was a book about the disasters that happen when the rules of a society break down. My brother is self-sufficient, intent on the next adventure. He neither needs nor desires society to entertain him. For him, Into the Wild was a book about escaping civilization, about independence and making it on your own.

I keep those two books on my bookshelf, not side by side but rather separated by a few shelves. It's a reminder of who I am and who my brother is. Best friends with a shared history, separated by time, space, and personalities, but always within reach.


  1. aww...excellent post and I loved the picture at the end.

  2. This was so fun to read about you and your brother. My freshman year of college we were assigned to read Into the Wild over the summer to discuss at freshman orientation. I doesn't seem like I was that thrilled with it. Maybe I am more like you than your brother and need to give Into Thin Air a try! LOL

  3. Thoughtful, beautiful, warming (and a great final photo). Thank you for this, Miss Em.

  4. Thanks for sharing this, it made me smile.


  5. ha - I had the same discussion about Into the Wild with Daniel.

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  6. My thoughts probably would've been, "How can I convince my brother to go waste in a no man's land?!"

    ^^ Nice post, I liked it.

  7. I enjoyed reading your post - it echoes some of the things I've been thinking about as far as my own two daughters go. They both love reading, which is great - and I'm wondering if they will continue to enjoy reading the same sorts of books that they do now. I hope so! I love to hear them talk about them. My brother and I never read any of the same things - he has no idea why I read the kinds of books I do (kids, YA, fantasy, SF, etc.). That's why I love all my book-blogging buddies. They get it! :-)

  8. The first time my children fought over a book, I was shocked. I don't think my brother ever willingly picked up a book in his life! Thanks for the philosophical musings this morning!


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