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.
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 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.
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.