I gave my eldest daughter four books for Christmas last year. As she unwrapped them, and thanked me I felt compelled to explain my reasoning. I told her that these authors were the people most responsible for the way I think today. Her first comment, “Which of these should I avoid?”

Two months later, and early this week I came home from walking the dog and Vicoria had arrived early from work. She was tired, but wanted to talk. We sat in my office and she began to ask questions about them. She told me she’d finished one of them and just that day had a couple of spare hours at work and she’d read through page fifty of another – she was interested in discussing some of the ideas and where the thing was leading. I did my best to recall that place in the piece and we did some trading of ideas on what the author was doing, how the book was developing. I spent a few minutes explaining my take, and listened to hers.

We then went to other worldly issues and ideas. Politics, society, morality, propaganda, media and literature. I found myself thinking things based on my accumulation of ideas and forming responses like, “Those are the bastards responsible for all of it…”, or “Just wait until you get to this place, you’ll find…”, however, none of these things add to the conversation and I’m glad I listened instead of letting them out. It’s important to me that her input, growth and understanding be allowed to flow freely.

Her point of view went from the experience of listening to Gwyn Dyer, to explaining her understanding of dehumanization being one of the eight stages of genocide (a tangent afforded by my discussion of one of my favorite pieces of fiction), and questioning of some of the books she’s seen in my library – with pointed subtext  – all guiding the conversation into areas where she wants the benefit of another’s insight.

She is impressed with her current Language Arts instructor (this guy sounds like the teacher you wish your kids would run in to. Sardonic wit, impressive uncensored thinking, self-aware, and a leader of minds through education’s traps), and her new-found interest in literary awareness is a result of that. Thank God for good teachers.

In the end I offered one piece of advice – that one should monitor and temper the input. For every accusatory opinion or problem-based approach to reasoning, there are ten good and pure whimsical pieces that can take a person to joy or peace – simple reading of humorous or celebratory works infused with the poetry of living. For every dark journey there are light hearted antidotes.

I told her I was once almost drowned by Mark Twain. I was reading his stuff exclusively for a few months while working in the Arctic – isolated, and enjoying the simplicity and the laughter – I couldn’t get enough. But I came upon The Mysterious Stranger and fell into the abyss – caustic condemnation of human nature is a hard place to follow a light-hearted hero. All input requires consideration – so, I said, be aware of the need to govern it. The place your head is at can be a direct reflection of what it’s fed, and it’s a treasonous realization that would lead you to believe the world is a nasty place.

These four authors are a good start, she’s interested in talking and thinking. She is a very smart young woman. That makes me happy.