I received four new books for Christmas. Two are by authors I’ve read before (though not these particular titles) and the others are identified as New York Times Best-Selling Authors. This, I understand means only that they have had at least one book on that list, but not necessarily this one. In fact, I’m pretty sure about that, as one of the books indicates it was published in 2014, even though it was clearly under my Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, 2013.
I doubt there’s any gift I’ve received more often than a new book, or any that I appreciate more. You see, I think I may be a book junkie. Not only do I read nearly every spare minute, I will read the same book many times. I fill idle hours with books because I don’t like idle times (at least that’s my excuse) but there are other things I could be doing– like housework. But my attitude toward housework prevents me from dusting and vacuuming on a regular basis. I guess housework won’t kill you, but why risk it?
I blame my addiction on my dad, who was also a great reader and encouraged me to read mostly by his leniency regarding the time I spent reading. Mother tried to keep us busy helping with gardening and household chores, and I often had homework to do for school, but I still found time to read every day. I soon learned that, if I was reading when she wanted help with the supper dishes, Dad might say, “leave her alone, she’s reading,” almost as if it were some sacred ritual. How I loved that. And I must admit that I shamelessly took advantage of it.
I think we had a good many more books in our house than the average working-class family did at the time, including several impressive sets of books. We had the John Martin Books for children. These were filled with stories, poems, interesting facts about science, nature, famous people, and other fascinating things. There were even instructions for performing magic tricks, making puppets and puppet theaters, and a long list of other activities and projects.
The Book of Knowledge, which was more encyclopedic and Lands and People, which I believe was National Geographic in book form, resided with the other sets in two big, glass-fronted bookcases in our wide downstairs hallway for most of my growing-up years. The bookcases also housed a variety of storybooks including such classics as “Aesop’s Fables,” “Bambi,” “Black Beauty,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Heidi,” “Little Women,” several Nancy Drew mysteries, and some of my mother’s girlhood books. The entire set of the Bobbsey Twin stories took up an entire shelf of their own after Dad brought them home from an estate sale one day.
There were always new books at Christmas time and for birthdays, and I became a frequent library visitor at a young age, where I bypassed the children’s book section and explored Zane Grey, Edgar Allen Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle and other authors that didn’t live in the bookcases in our downstairs hall. In junior high, we had a wonderful English teacher who introduced us to Shakespeare via “The Merchant of Venice” and I overcame the odd language and arcane spelling enough to enjoy exploring, not only the plays, but many of the sonnets as well. I could check out five books at a time and keep them for two weeks. And, even though I could renew them by telephoning if I needed more time to read them, it was seldom necessary.
My paternal grandfather died young of tuberculosis (I’m told this was not uncommon for those who worked with the harsh chemicals involved in photography and violin making– both of which he enjoyed and spent much time at). But there was a set of encyclopedias and a custom-made box that he had built for his precious books, and decorated with a design of wild roses. Aside from a large, stern photo portrait of him, I think those books were the only things my dad had of his father’s. They now belong to me because nobody else wanted them, but I can’t think of any inheritance more symbolic or that I would appreciate more.
My dad died much too young, long before I began writing anything besides the rather mundane poetry I wrote in junior high and high school. He considered that I was destined to be an artist and a teacher (which I did), but I think he would be pleased to know that I have had some success as a writer. I wonder if he would recognize that one of the reasons is because he taught me that writing was important by making me believe that reading was important. What’s a writer without readers? or vice versa?