Friday, February 12, 2010

For the Love of Books

The love of books, the love of the written word in any form, has been a mainstay of my life. It started while sitting on the arm of a very large, pink velvety chair in the living room of the farm house I grew up in. My mother would sit in this chair in the evening with my sister on her right and I on her left, and we would listen as she read. I often followed along and would, from time to time, stop her to see where she was, see what the word looked like and how it matched the sound of the word. There was a story involving monkeys and coconuts that was a regular of ours. It was this story, more than any other, that taught me how to read.

Reading was integral to our family life and material was always at hand. My early favorites were found in a book of fables and fairy tales. Hansel and Gretel held great appeal, although the idea of a step parent was unfathomable to me, not part of the world I knew, and wickedness in any form was strictly the stuff of fairy tales. It was going deep in the woods with a trail of bread crumbs as guidance that grabbed my attention.

I went on to Golden Books and then comic books. Remember Classics Illustrated? They would tell a very condensed version of  literary classics. I still have a copy of Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle that I framed. And, lest you think it was all classics, there was Archie and the gang, Turok, Son of Stone, as well as Millie the Model.  All things in balance, of some sort.

My tastes, if I dare to call it that, developed as I went, until one day in my tenth grade English class we had to give a book report and read a small portion to the class. It was an exercise meant to give a glimpse into the book we had read, as well as the writer's style. I read from John Updike's Rabbit, Run. Ah, sweet, troubled youth. I cannot provide an adequate explanation as to why Rabbit and the world he felt trapped by would appeal to me at that stage of my life. I like to believe it had a great deal to do with Updike's writing. I knew what appealed to me as far as a writer's style even then, and his definitely did. Unfortunately, for my classmates and my rather stunned teacher, I read the drowning in the bathtub scene. I would not choose that now for the life of me, but in my then small, self-centered, not very emotionally mature world view, I found it to be the natural, if not dramatic, choice. Teenagers love drama. And I was no exception.

Years later, after getting my degree, I returned to my high school as a substitute teacher and there was Mrs. Leyendecker, my tenth grade English teacher. I was sitting in the teacher's lounge at lunch visiting with other former teachers of mine when she realized who I was and said something like, "You read the drowning in the bathtub scene from Rabbit, Run." I offered a belated apology for my youthful indiscretion. She was very nice, and I must say, it was a real treat to be sitting among my former teachers as a teacher myself. I felt a small bit of redemption. When Updike passed on last year the New Yorker did several nice pieces on him and included some of his wonderful poetry.

I trust books will remain an invaluable part of our world. I recently went to see the movie "The Book of Eli," not once, but twice. I loved the post-apocalyptic story, the amazing cinematography, and Denzel Washington is always worth watching. But, what I carried with me after the movie was over was the importance of books as a way to recover a world that has been lost. It wasn't The Book itself or the ways in which books can be misused or misrepresented, but the value of books, the idea that books, a library or a repository of knowledge, would be a way to begin again.

I always have at least one that I am lost in, fiction now and then, but often it's non-fiction that I reach for; someone's story that sounds vaguely like my own, or the person who has lived a life I will never experience except through their words, but find a camaraderie or empathy therein. I fear I sound like a dinosaur waxing nostalgic for the good old days, but I do hope we never lose the desire and need for libraries and bookstores. I like nothing better than to wander around a bookstore, seeing what jumps out at me. Borders in Santa Fe was my home away from home for many years. I still go back there whenever I visit. I will be there in a couple of days. Can't wait.

I remember several bookstores, independently owned, that provide rich memories. One in New Orleans, just off Jackson Square, small, cramped, and spectacularly well-stocked. Another on Grand Avenue in St. Paul, the Hungry Mind, that had a selection nonpareil, and one of the first to include a cafe within its walls. During my earlier forays west, Back of Beyond in Moab, Utah, was a regular stop. I once scored a book of Ansel Adams letters for half the price on one of those trips. I was beyond happy.

Used book stores are always fun to go wading through, turning up some unexpected jewel. I find even the smell enticing. Perhaps I will share a few of my favorites in a future post. There is a small one, in the equally small town in which I live, with an odd and lively mixture, operated by a thoughtful bibliophile, working hard at keeping the faith, holding the future in his good hands.


  1. Golden books! Loved them. Devoured them, actually. And it spiraled from there. My grandmother - who had a 5th grade education - loved books, and passed her love of reading on to me. I remember her reading Huey Long's biography and other non-fiction books. She may not have known all the words, but she got the gist anyway. She and I spent summers in the small town library where I joined the reading club. I felt a sense of pride when the librarian would place a star on my reading card.

    I hope we always see libraries and book stores, but I fear with our technological advancement, eventually, they will be a rarity.

    I love your posts because they evoke wonderful memories. I tend to dwell on the sad things in my past, but you have a way of remembering all the good things. :)

  2. I felt warm fuzzies when I saw your mother sitting in her pink chair, with you and Judy (Chris) on either side. Teresa, your evocation is so sensitive, so pure, you're at the heart of Americana. I, too, cringe at the thought of a world without books, only technology and Kindles. The Ancients will surely frown upon us. Anyway, I gasped when I read that you read Updike in the 10th grade. Wow, girl! That's not a dramatic teenager, that's a precocious teenager...and a clue as to how you can peel back the layers and get to the gist of what's what. I'm in awe of your incredible depth and insight and how you weave it all together. Your blog is a book in the wings!

  3. The Hungry Mind Bookstore sold its name back in 2000 and changed the name to Ruminator. Sadly it went out of business in 2004 like so many other independants. Happily, both Uncle Hugo's Science Fiction and Uncle Edgar's Mystery bookstores are still going!

  4. Ms Sparrow, thank you for the news on the bookstores. Independents are getting fewer and fewer, as in so many things. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    LB and Kittie, thank you so much for your kind and encouraging words. I am so happy that what I enjoy writing about is appreciated by others. Your comments mean a lot to me.

  5. Awesome blog once again mom! The reference to Book of Eli made me wonder what things wed look back on and think, "damn we are a messy bunch, maybe we shoulda cleaned up after ourselves" Alot of the stuff would be so unnecessary, but books would be like gold

  6. Yes, Coleman, so much unnecessary stuff. Books, and the ideas therein, the only thing of true substance.

  7. The Rabbit series I did not come into until my forties. I was so interested and read every Rabbit. Boy, they hit home. I'll bet you stunned your class when you read it. --Jack Matthews

  8. Yes. It's not often that a writer creates a character who is so...quintessential.

  9. Me too, me too, me too, me TOO! All of it! My husband and I just saw The Book of Eli last night. Chilling. Loved it- we both did. And hey! You're going to be in Santa Fe this week? What for? And for how long?

  10. Kristy! I am here in SF and will be for a week. I need to clear out my storage unit and get what remains of my "stuff" back to Minnesota. It will help me to get grounded/centered in my location. I will message you on FB in the morning... and, Thanks for commenting on my post!

  11. Hola Teresa! I've found your blog from another site, and glad I have. Find the narrative very interesting. Had to laugh at the English story anecdote since I am a former English teacher, 7-12 throughout my career at St. Paul Academy in St. Paul, MN. Do you know it? Where are you now in Minnesota?

    I have to keep backtracking on your blog to find some more interesting posts!

  12. Hi Kate and Welcome! So glad you dropped by. Yes, I have heard of it. I make my home currently about 120 miles north of the TC. Lake country, but where isn't? :) I hope you enjoy my former posts, as well. I look forward to checking out your blog.

  13. Hi Theresa Evangeline: Nice post. A few days ago I came across a copy of Stuart Little by EB White for a dime in a thrift shop. Couldn't wait to get it home and read it. That is the first book I ever recall reading for pure enjoyment as a kid, and though I 've read it several more times over the decades I found the other night it was still worth sitting up past time to go to sleep to read through yet another.

    You and I appear to have one more area of similar interest. I get nervous if I have some time and no book near at hand to stick my face into.

    Thanks for sharing the post.

  14. Jules, I'm pleased that you found this post and found it interesting. Yes, we've traveled similar roads, it seems. Nice to find a comrade.