It’s no coincidence. The writing compulsion most often grabs me by the neck and shakes me till my teeth rattle when I’m surrounded by books. For a writer, there’s something inspirational about a library. Being in the massed presence of so many other authors is like snuggling under a cozy quilt on a snowy day.
Here in the warm embrace of some of my favorite dead people, I’ve engaged in an experiment: I’m re-reading some of my favorite stories from childhood. There’s something steadying and bracing about unearthing and enjoying a book that’s still in circulation some forty years or so after finding it the first time. It’s like digging up a pot of gold or swan-diving into an Olympic-sized pool of Hershey’s chocolate with almonds.
It’s also kind of strange.
Hello and Goodbye
Yes, the publishing world has cranked out galaxies of books since Guttenberg printed his first Bible. But returning to an old favorite seems… right. Like stepping into a pair of well-worn jeans. Memories of long ago tumble out as pages open, prompted by Marguerite Henry, Laura Ingalls Wilder or J.M. Barrie. The Count of Monte Cristo. Hawkeye and Ching- achgook. Black Beauty and Ginger. The experience stirs up a frothy brew of appreciation, nostalgia and a double latte sigh. Hello and goodbye at the same time.
Buried in these books, mental pictures of classmates, teachers, friends and family surface. A favorite book may nudge memories of a certain person, event, or season. Little Women dredges up memories of silver aluminum Christmas trees and color wheels. Island of the Blue Dolphins beckons my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Manderson, who read the book aloud to the class. Yellow hibiscus bloom like spring sunsets when perusing Swiss Family Robinson. And yes, nearly every childhood favorite recalls weekly excursions to the library with Mom.
A Bookish Household
I grew up in a household groaning with books, in a family that would rather read then eat. Truthfully, I’ve never understood how any living soul could abhor reading. It’s like hating breathing. (It may also explain how people wind-up in Congress, but that’s another story.)
Speaking of which, I recently heard someone declare, straight-faced, that “reading is a complete waste of time.” I wanted to deck him on the spot. I would’ve too, except that I was loaded to the gills with library books and couldn’t free up an arm. Instead, I just smiled sweetly and muttered something about cave-dwelling Neanderthals and pond scum.
My earliest, fondest memories involve books. I’m told that Mom read The Sound and the Fury aloud to me before I was born, which may explain my aversion to Faulkner (apologies to high school English teachers everywhere). She also reportedly read Shakespeare, Dickens, and the Bible. I suspect Mom either sped-read, excerpted, or that that pregnancy lasted for years. Likewise, my earliest cognizant memory of Dad was sitting in his lap while he read aloud, probably something light. Like War and Peace.
I have no memory of “learning” to read in the academic sense. I don’t ever remember not reading. I suspect those weekly excursions to the library with mom had something to do with it. Ditto Dad. Whenever he was sitting down, Dad usually had an open book in his hands.
A Good Story
To this day, I’ll take a good story over TV, movies, the internet, IPods, MP3s, smart phones or presidential debates any time. And for those who deem reading “a complete waste of time,” I’d like ask, “What constitutes a valuable investment of time?”
A good story can last a lifetime. And good books? Well, did better friends ever exist? Books never jump up and rush off to another appointment or dump you for a better offer. They’re never double-booked (ouch!), and they’re patient, waiting for your return so you can pick up where you left off. Books accept anyone who opens their pages and offer their treasure to those willing to spend the time to mine them.
How many cave-dwelling Neanderthals can you say that about?