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May 3, 2018

Lisa Genova’s “Made-Up” Stories

We’re excited to kick off this year’s Mother’s Day Author Blog series with Lisa Genova, whose latest novel EVERY NOTE PLAYED is a Bets On pick. Although Lisa doesn't remember her mother reading to her as a child, the same cannot be said of her own three children, all of whom have fond memories of their mom reading to them. While the likes of Harry Potter and Mabel Jones were reliable go-tos, it was the “made-up” stories --- the ones in which they were the main characters embarking on adventures to fantastical new lands --- that they cherish the most.


My mother says she read to me when I was a child, and I believe her, but I have no memory of this experience. My children are now beyond the ages of being read to --- almost 18, 10 and 8. My oldest is currently reading Aldous Huxley’s THE DOORS OF PERCEPTION and HEAVEN AND HELL. My boy loves nonfiction, especially the I Survived series. My eight-year-old has just discovered Junie B. Jones. Sometimes before bed, I still read aloud to the little ones, something quick and inspirational, words to feed the soul: a chapter from Maria Shriver’s I’VE BEEN THINKING, a profile from GOOD NIGHT STORIES FOR REBEL GIRLS, or today’s entry from Melody Beattie’s JOURNEY TO THE HEART. But they’re all independent readers now.

I asked all three if they remembered me reading to them when they were younger. God bless them, they all do. Sorry, Mom.

I read all of HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE aloud to my oldest when she was five. The actress in me loved choosing distinct voices and accents for the different characters. I really enjoyed hamming it up. The memory still feels immediate and delicious as I type, snuggling up with her in pajamas, her hair still damp from showering, discovering the magic of Hogwarts together. She and I shared the reading of HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, alternating every other chapter, or I’d take over whenever she got tired. But before long, as she was older and ready and impatient, she began sneaking just one more chapter after I’d said goodnight, flashlight under covers. And so she was off and reading on her own.

Sadly, I didn’t read Harry Potter with the other two. They weren’t interested in the wizard. Instead, they remember me reading the Mabel Jones series. These characters were peculiar and funny and even grotesque, which was great fun for creating dramatic narration.

But what they remember most were the “made-up” stories. This is a baton relayed to me from my dad, who used to tell “made-up” stories to my oldest. These always began the same way. We’re in Starbucks when one of us notices a door embedded in the wall over by where I write. It seems that no one but us can see this door. We try the knob, but it’s locked. Then my son realizes that he has an ancient golden key in his pocket. We have no idea how it got there. He uses the key, turns the knob and the door opens.

We step into a strange, carnival land populated by all kinds of people and dragons. One of the dragons becomes our pet. My son named him Caramel. We always find a letter addressed to us in a special mailbox, and it sends us off on an adventure, riding our flying pet dragon to curious lands to solve an important problem --- pollution, animals in trouble, a bullied child, a lost child. My kids loved being the main characters, their eyes lighting up whenever the story led to one of them doing something heroic, giddily interrupting to supply silly, fantastical details.

I’d like to say that the “made-up” stories stopped because my kids got older, but the truth is, I did. As all of our days got busier, I started feeling too tired to make up a story at bedtime. Can’t I just read Mabel Jones? It’s time for all you people to go to sleep. Maybe I ended that sweet era too soon.

No one seems to hold it against me. Rather, they all look back on these bedtime story days with grateful fondness. And I’m grateful they remember.