My thoughts for this post began with a conversation with one of my granddaughters on a drive home from town. She was coming to spend the night and I was explaining that I would be reading most of the evening so she’d be on her own for entertainment. She was coming out for a break, but I was enforcing one rule that had been set at home earlier in the day – she was not allowed to be on any devices. I was trying to finish a book for my book club meeting the following evening and was just letting her know that of course she could read, or draw by herself. When she asked what we were reading, I asked if she had ever heard of Agatha Christie. We had chosen an Agatha Christie mystery actually written by another author.I found it amazing actually that another author could so clearly write in the same style as the famous Christie!
This launched me into telling her of my discovery of Agatha Christie mysteries when I was about 10. My father commuted to work for a while with a co-worker who was an avid reader. She would send boxes of paperbacks to me as she completed them. She, like me, loved to read. I’ve often said my motto, or one of my mottoes in life, is “A book a day, or why get up at all.”
My mind then went in several directions, not necessarily chronologically, so just bear with me. Books were an escape, a way to connect, a way to find things out, a way to teach myself. What I read also shaped my thinking about events that happened to me. More about that later.
The first book I remember reading was titled Ebony. I remember the cover perfectly – yellow with a little black cocker spaniel reaching up. I think I actually have it in storage somewhere. My maternal Grandmother gave it to me when I was four and in the hospital after having my tonsils out. Interestingly, both my Grandmothers were avid readers, but I have no memories of being read to by my mother. I know she could read; she graduated from college, but lately I’ve wondered if she might have been dyslexic. Another story. My father read quite a bit – books, magazines, newspapers, but not to us. He did read to the grandkids. I’ll come back to this.
The next book that stands out for me is Brownie, a story about a brown bear that was a pet. My Grandmother was in a book club that met monthly and it was her turn to give a book talk. She was reporting on a book about a boy who had a brown bear for a pet. She practiced the talk in front of me and then gave me the book. I loved it! Not so much the story, but the owning of my own book. I was also entranced by the idea of these grown women having lunch and giving book talks to one another. I could not imagine my mother doing anything like that.
I became a library assistant in fourth grade in our elementary school. I remember thinking that I was going to try to read every book in the library! No, I didn’t accomplish that, but I sure read many of them. I loved being an assistant because I got to take home the newest books, first. I also got to request books that I heard about. I was a frequent user of our public library, especially in the summer when the school library was closed.
Getting back to the Agatha Christie books. My dad’s co-worker also sent Harlequin romance books home. I was not picky about what I read. I read mysteries, romance, biographies. Really, I read whatever came my way. In hindsight, I realize that what I learned from the Harlequin romances was a very skewed view on relationships. Wow! I now realize that of course I couldn’t make sense of them because they didn’t reflect what I saw around me. On the other hand, being young and naive, I thought maybe that was the way some people behaved.
The very negative thing that I learned from the romance books was such a skewed idea of romance. Even the very word romance seems odd to me now. So misguided, that even when I was raped in college, I didn’t understand that what had happened was rape.There weren’t rape hotlines, rape clinics or rape prevention classes. At least, I didn’t know about them if they existed. I did know for myself that there was a power dynamic that had occurred. And it had involved fear and shame. I couldn’t understand how what had happened to me was somehow considered romantic, to be taken by force. Yet, all the books I had read when I was younger described these sex scenes as somehow leading to love and marriage. Fortunately for me, this happened at the beginning of the women’s movement and though I didn’t get help at the time, resources for my own empowerment began to creep into my awareness. It was probably ten years before I told anyone about it. Working in a mental health clinic exposed me to a lot of resources that helped me work though much of the trauma on my own.
Having a child and being a teacher were so intertwined in filling myself up with books, books and more books. One interesting event in our family happened at a big family dinner with my parents, my siblings and the nieces and nephews. We were all sitting at the table and my dad observed that we sure did read a lot to our kids. We brought book bags with us for the kids when were there for the week-end and the kids would bring books to Dad to read to them. He asked us why, why did we do this? I was actually shocked that he asked. My sister-in-law is as avid a reader as I am and we both talked about early learning, etc. My dad just sort of nodded and said something like, “I see.” It is still one of those moments when I just shake my head. So, he didn’t read to us, but boy did he read aloud to the grandkids.
I love how one thing sparks a memory and that writing about the one thing leads to more memories. The next book that made a big impression on me was a book about heroes. There were probably 10 or more chapters and each one about someone who had overcome adversity. I particularly remember a story about a golf champion who had overcome a handicap. I think I was drawn to that story because we lived a few blocks from a golf club and the neighborhood kids got to play golf for free. I was also drawn to stories about Helen Keller and Anne Frank. Somehow these stories have given me courage to stick with things that were hard and to not give up.
Last little tale to wrap this one up. When our daughter was born, I was in bed with her one day, probably day 5 of her life! and was reading a little chubby book to her. My husband came in and was laughing and asked if I thought she knew what I was reading. I just told him that I wasn’t sure on what day she would know what I was reading, but she would always know that I loved reading to her. He too loves to read and then read a book to her. Years later when we would go camping, both my daughter and I had fun picking out books we wanted him to read to us. It is wonderful to be read to. I love to hear him read (that was his favorite part of the day when he was a teacher) and I love to listen to audiobooks as well!
What role in your life have books played?