My life with books goes so far back that I actually can’t remember a time when I didn’t know how to read.
My entire childhood was spent with my “nose in a book,” as my grandfather often said. Books were my comfort, my friends, my treasures, my security, my escape, and my joy. Children who have insecure and disrupted family lives often find solace in something they can control, and my solace was found in books.
I always was, and still am in some ways, a fairly nondiscriminatory reader. By which I mean, I read everything I could get my hands on, from high-quality literature to poorly-written brain candy, from encyclopedias to cereal boxes. Whatever was available at the time, I read it. For a long time I was limited to what I could find on the bookshelves at my grandparents’ house, which meant I had access from a young age to a 10-volume Bible story set (which introduced me to God and eventually changed my life) as well as to The Exorcist (which sadly, I read, and far too young at that). I had no supervision regarding my reading material, for better or for worse.
Between the ages of 7 and 14, I attended ten different schools. My transitory life didn’t foster close friendships with peers, so books remained my most reliable and best friends. I read constantly. I have vivid memories of walking home from school around age nine, engrossed in a Peanuts comic book and trying not to run into trees or get hit by a car.
A year or so later, my mother and I fled to Florida after a domestic violence situation in her marriage. And miracle of miracles—the tiny library in our rural town was a mere two blocks from our home. I walked there several times a week and, along with my mom, read every Agatha Christie they had before branching out to other fiction and nonfiction books. It was in Florida that I discovered The Bobbsey Twins, books that I knew were “too young” for me, as well as hopelessly outdated and overly idealistic, but they were exactly what my heart and mind needed at that time. I read every one that the library had, and wished, mostly subconsciously, for a loving, protective, intact family of my own.
From about eight through eleven, I acquired the same kind of reading comfort from two other series I loved at the time: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books and Nancy Drew mysteries. Oh, to be a 19th-century child with a stable, safe, and loving home life, or a modern teen with intriguing and heroic things to do each day … along with a blue convertible, a handsome boyfriend, and unlimited foreign travel.
In school, I had several teachers who, for whatever reason, would “test” my reading in class. They would pull me over to a table by myself and hand me a book, telling me to begin anywhere and read it aloud to them. I remember reading chapter one of Funerals Are Fatal (Agatha Christie again) to my fourth grade teacher and later reading parts of Gone with the Wind to my sixth grade teacher. When I finished reading a section of GWTW aloud (this was in the Deep South of rural central Florida), my teacher closed the 1,000-page book, handed it to me, and said, “You should just read this book. I think you’d like it.” He was right, although I have to say that I liked and understood it much better in my 30s, and then again in my 50s, than I did when I was eleven.
In high school, I discovered the lifesaving gift of theatre, and I read play after play after play. I also had an ex-hippie teacher for AP English who introduced us to poets she loved but I did not (Lawrence Ferlinghetti) and to great literature that I only appreciated years later (The Old Man and the Sea, for example—this book is wasted on 16-year-olds). In my free time I read Ayn Rand and, like many angsty teens, was a fierce devotee of her objectivist philosophy for a few years. I read Stephen King and was then terrified to go to sleep at night. I read astrology books and to this day, I have a regrettable number of brain cells devoted to knowledge of zodiac signs that I cannot dispose of no matter how hard I try.
I finished high school a year early and entered college as a theatre major, only to become disillusioned and change my major to English in my second year. My degree, like my reading habits in general, reflects an eclectic array of periods and genres, as well as enough classes for a writing certificate.
And, fittingly, I worked my way through college with a job in a bookstore.
All these years later, my love of reading lives on. Today I read both fiction and nonfiction: bestsellers, classics, children’s books, biographies, religious books, humor and comics, and a daily print newspaper (that is, until the internet drives the final stake through its inky heart). When someone innocently asks me, “What do you like to read?” I get that deer-in-the-headlights look and stammer my answer with an apologetic half-smile … “Oh, I like to read just about anything…” Little do they know. Just about anything, indeed.
Happily, I have friends and family, both online and in real life, who also like to read. And some of them have encouraged me to add a tab to my blog where I write about books and reading. If you’ve read this far, you probably already know that people who love to read also love to talk, read, and/or write about books and everything to do with reading in general.
While I no longer have an insecure and disrupted life—thank God for that—I still quite often have my nose in a book. Because books are still my comfort, my friends, my treasures, my security, my escape, and my joy.
“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” —Cicero
“Rainy days should be spent at home with a cup of tea and a good book.” —Bill Watterson
“Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book.” —Jane Smiley
“Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.” —P.J. O’Rourke
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