Oh, the Stories You'll Read

JOE MURRAY

January 24, 1992|By JOE MURRAY

ANGELINA COUNTY, TEXAS. — ''Last year, 60 per cent of U.S. households did not buy a single book, says a study by the American Booksellers Association and two other publishing groups.'' --News item

Angelina County, Texas. -- Most everybody has some opinion or another as to why America's education system is foundering. I have mine.

It's simply this: Enough parents don't buy books.

It gets even simpler. If you have books in your home, you tend to read books. If your children see you reading books, they'll tend to read books. If they read books, they learn. If they learn, they do well in school. If they do well in school, they get a good education. If they get a good education, they tend to do well in life.

Those of you who don't buy books, I assume, don't know how much they cost. New books cost $15 to $25 for an average hardback. If that sounds like a lot for a book, maybe it is. But it doesn't sound like too much for an investment in your child's future.

If you buy a book a month, that's spending less than a dollar a day for your child, and you get to read it, too. Oh, the stories you'll read.

For Christmas, I gave my niece a favorite book, ''The Great

Gatsby,'' written in 1925 by F. Scott Fitzgerald. What follows is an excerpt, which is little more than a list of names, but Fitzgerald makes almost every name a story in itself.

''Once I wrote down on the empty spaces of a time-table the names of those who came to Gatsby's house that summer . . . the Chester Beckers and the Leeches, and a man named Bunsen, whom I knew at Yale, and Doctor Webster Civet, who was drowned last summer up in Maine.

''And the Hornsbeams and the Willie Voltaires, and a whole clan named Blackbuck, who always gathered in a corner and flipped up their noses like goats at whosoever came near. And the Ismays and the Chrysties (or rather Hubert Auerback and Mr. Chrystie's wife), and Edgar Beaver, whose hair, they say, turned cotton-white one winter afternoon for no good reason at all . . .

''From farther out on the Island came the Cheadles and the O.R.P. Schraeders, and the Stonewall Jackson Abrams of Georgia, and the Fishguards and the Ripley Snells. Snell was there three days before he went to the penitentiary, so drunk out on the gravel drive that Mrs. Ulysses Swett's automobile ran over his right hand.

''Da Fontano the promoter came there, and Ed Legros and James B. (''Rot-Gut'') Ferret and the De Jongs and Ernest Lilly -- they came to gamble, and when Ferret wandered into the garden it meant he was cleaned out and Associated Traction would have to fluctuate profitably the next day . . .

''I can remember that Faustina O'Brien came there at least once and the Baedeker girls and young Brewer, who had his nose shot off in the war, and Mr. Albrucksburger and Miss Haag, his fiancee, and Ardita Fitz-Peters and Mr. P. Jewett, once head of the American Legion, and Miss Claudia Hip, with a man reputed to be her chauffeur, and a prince of something, whom we called Duke, and whose name, if I ever knew it, I have forgotten.

''All these people came to Gatsby's house in the summer.''

My niece is not yet 2. F. Scott Fitzgerald will be ready and waiting for her when she's ready to read. It's what I call a head-start program.

Joe Murray, editor-publisher emeritus of the Lufkin (Texas) Daily News, is a senior writer for Cox Newspapers.

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