One wintry day many years ago when I was a poor graduate student subsisting on a daily diet of one can of Campbell’s tomato and rice soup for lunch and dinner, I was wandering down Broadway when I stopped at a vendor’s cart piled high with CDs. Was it the intoxicating aroma of roasting chestnuts and honey roasted nuts from the neighboring carts that was my undoing? The unmistakable smell of snow in the air? Whatever the reason, I found myself handing over money from my meager student stipend to buy the Boyz II Men Christmas album.

“Ya wanna plain brown paper bag fuh dat?” the vendor asked.

“Hunh?” I looked at him blankly.

“Ya don’t wanna be seen walking around in public widdat, do yas?”

Damn. Openly scorned and mocked by a street vendor to whom I had just forked over my last dollar bills.

I guess my taste in music has always been embarrassingly haphazard at worst, “eclectic” at best. Nevertheless, my playlist is a reflection of who I am and where I’ve been. Similarly, my bookshelves full of Russian literature, poetry, and children’s picture books are also an accurate record of my life and interests.

I recently borrowed my son’s Kindle to read a book I didn’t want to add to my already overflowing bookshelves. In reading through his “Archived items,” I unearthed a treasure trove of information about him. There were things you might expect to see on any eleven year old boy’s reading and app list, like soccer books and games, “fart-themed” apps, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Legends of King ArthurThe Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and Treasure Island. There were some surprises as well. For example, I hadn’t realized how deep my son’s interest in  Civil War history was until I read through the extensive list of memoirs, histories, and documents on his Kindle including that classic: A Refutation of the charges Made against the Confederate States of America of Having authorized the Use of Exploive and Poisoned Musket and Rifle Balls during the Late Civil War of 1861-65. I’ve always known that my son’s the kind of kid who likes to figure out how things work. Even so, his list of “How-to” guides still managed to surprise and entertain me: Clutter-Free Home Living, How to Get Cash in 24 Hours, Hotel Room Workout, Make Perfect Coffee, How to Read Maya Hieroglyphs, Evening Yoga for Women. And then there were the cookbooks. To understand my puzzlement over these, it would probably help to know that we often refer to our son as “White Boy.” This has nothing to do with the color of his skin, and everything to do with his preference for white food…the blander, the better. Imagine my surprise to discover such exotic cookbooks in his archives such as The Kerala Kitchen: Recipes and Recollections from the Syrian Christians of South India and Taste of Romania: Its Cookery and Glimpses of Its History, Folklore, Art, Literature, and Poetry.

I’ve learned a lot about my son’s wide-ranging interests by going through his Kindle archives. My budding renaissance man is interested in cookery, wildlife, the ancient ballads, poetry, and songs of the English peasantry…And also? The boy’s a sucker for free downloads.

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