Being a bit of a geek with few friends, I didn’t do much in my early teens other than read. I’m not saying that all readers are friendless nerds, I’m just saying that friendless nerds often cocoon themselves in books because the real world can be terrifying to navigate.
Back in my day, you joined a library the moment you could waddle and we carried books around with us everywhere so we didn’t get bored at bus stops or when our parents dragged us around to visit their friends. I never read to educate myself or because I found it edifying. It was pure escapism and entertainment.
This week, my second novel, Kissing Emma, was published. It’s a YA novel (Young Adults, aimed at the 13-16-year-old market) and I said to my 13-year-old son, “Do you think you’ll read my book?”
He narrowed his eyes, thinking about the best and most polite way to put it, then said: “Erm, no. Probably not.”
I understood. My own father is a writer and I have never felt much of an inclination to read his work, no matter how much other people raved about him. He’s not “Khorsandi, The Writer” to me. He is my dad. Whatever he has to say in his work, however moving or funny his poems are, they won’t move me or make me laugh more than the fact that he is my father and raised me. I feel like I know his work without reading it because I know him.
I thought my son might feel the same. I gave him the empathetic, motherly look that I save for special occasions and said: “Is it because it’s a bit weird reading something that I wrote?”
My boy gave me an impassive look back, then grinned. “No. It would just be weird reading.”
No one knows how to needle their poor old mum, and make her laugh at the same time, than a teenager.
Parents of my generation are often exasperated with our children who often don’t read nearly as much as we did, and so we spend much of our time trying to get our offspring away from the screens and devices that we bought them.
These days, as books compete with our mindless scrolling through social media, incredibly sophisticated computer games and endless gripping drama series, reading is becoming almost an eccentric thing to do.
The other day, as my daughter and I were slumped on the Piccadilly line with our snouts in our books, an older gentleman commented that it was “very nice to see her reading instead of being on a phone”.
A well intentioned, pleasant exchange, of course, but also one which massively judged parents who – like I have, many times – thrust phones or tablets into their children’s hands to keep them quiet for a bit. (If you ever find yourself judging those parents, you are probably the same sort of person as the bus driver who stopped the bus between stops and ordered me to get off because my toddler was screaming so loudly. You just can’t win with some people.)
Of course my son will not read my novel. I am his mother. He’s not interested in what I do for my job any more than the son of a plumber or a teacher.
He is a massive fan of the show Taskmaster, and enthusiastically tells me about the comedians who are on it. I’m so excited when he’s a fan of another comedian that I needily tell him personal anecdotes about them: “Oh, he played football with you when we went to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival when you were four!”, or, “Oh, she came to our house once, don’t you remember? Hang on! I’LL FIND PHOTOS!”
Now, there’s an admission – I boast to my 13-year-old son about the people that I know in order to look cool, which is the most uncool, needy thing anyone can do.
The truth is, I am not his favourite person to hang out with the way I was when he was little and jumped into my arms every time I came through the door. He needs space and a bit of autonomy. That means he needs his mother to be out of his face for a bit. I get that. It can be hard, but I’ve found that sometimes, if I stand very still and don’t frighten him away, he’ll even come to me for a quick hug.
I still try and get him to think I’m interesting, though. Just the other night, as I was leaving for the benefit night I was performing at, he asked, “What’s the charity?” and I told him, “The English Collective of Prostitutes. They campaign to keep sex workers safe and to decriminilise what they do.”
“OK,” he said, not looking up. “Have a good time.” No further lines of enquiry and no eyelash batted by my son. I may as well have told him I was going off count the tiles in the bathroom. I was as interested in my parents’ life at his age, only it wouldn’t have been an intricate computer game absorbing me, but a Judy Blume book.
‘Kissing Emma’ by Shaparak Khorsandi is published by Bellatrix in paperback, priced £7.99