My personal experience with books began before I remember, but the first I remember is a story about a tiger lost in the woods. This was followed by a longtime love of Uncle Remus and Grimm’s Three Billy Goats Gruff, where my father provided the voices, and I yearned for him to read them over and over, again and again.
Once I got to school, story time on the rug was my favorite. I fell in love with Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss, and Lois Lowry. For all the young adult books I read, no one could ever replace Beverly Cleary and most of all, her character Ramona Quimby. Like me, Ramona was clumsy, curious and had great imagination. I was sure Ramona was the best girl I would ever meet. She and I are still friends to this day, although at times I must share her with my daughters.
As a child, my parents must have taken me to hundreds of games and races, where I would hide out in the loft of our RV, turning the pages of The Very Busy World of Richard Scary, coloring cut-out characters and play-acting with the stories. “Always with her nose in a book!” became a way for my parents to describe me, lamenting to their friends about my pallor.
In adolescence, reading was no longer about tests of comprehension or who was in which ability group. I saw fewer and fewer students reading, and as a result, I set myself apart as a reader. I traded well-loved books with classmates for whom I had no particular affection.
One summer I read every book my mother had on her bookshelf, after which, she was forced to take me to get a library card.
On outings with my parents, I took books. Instead of banal comments on how big I’d gotten, or what grade I was in now, the books offered themselves up as a platform. “Oh! You know, if you like Gone with the Wind, you’ve got to read John Jakes!” Friends of my parents would pile my arms with books, delighted to see a young person reading.
I didn’t have great beauty, a social butterfly personality, and I certainly had no aptitude for sports — but I was a great reader. Books would long entertain me while my best friend tried on clothes for modeling school, or while I sat in the bleachers at games for boys I’d liked.
In a recent conversation amongst bibliophiles, it was revealed to me that I do not worship the books themselves the way others might. Oh yes, I love the smell of old books. I, too, relish the first bend in the spine of a hardback, with its delicious crackling. But I do not treat books with high reverence for their physicality. My books are bent, dog-eared, highlighted, written in, and occasionally stained by strong coffee or tea. I’m no stranger to falling asleep in one, waking up with pages stuck to my face. The book, to me, is a conduit of the writer’s words. I want to escape into words. I want to be where the words fill my head with images, intrigue and ideas.
My own bookshelves are libraries, with some books borrowed, some on loan and some, I suspect, that will never be returned.
I like books because every book is a unique experience. To be enraptured by a piece of literature is as close as I can come to living as an entirely different being, in an environment which is different from my own. For a few hours a day, I am transported deep into an unfamiliar city, a foreign jungle, or even an undiscovered plane. My mind can experience adventures in which I would never place my own body. While I read a writer’s voice, I am male or female, human or animal, alien or observer. It doesn’t matter the period or setting of a book; while I read I am not myself, yet I find the universal truths between the writer and myself. Books we read redefine the spectrum of our minds. With each piece, we are expanded and included into the combined human experience.