Monday, January 14, 2013

For the Love of Books

Why do I love books? Oh, let me tell you.

My earliest memories are of my mother reading to me. Everything she read, she read aloud, from scripture to The Exodus or The Silver Chalice. I’m surprised I still remember the names of those books. I couldn’t have been more than four when she was reading them to me. Curled up in bed, she’d already read my favorite story, “Dory and the Weather Box,” and I was sleepily imagining pink clouds and purple lightning as my mother opened her own book to read. She would sit in the room with my brothers and I until we were completely asleep.

I don’t remember the entire novel, but I remember images. The love spell and the woman combing her hair so straight that not one hair overlapped another. To this day that sounds impossible. I remember wondering if the woman had hair like a dolls, growing in one circular layer around the top of her skull, because otherwise all her hair would have to overlap. I remember the scene of the man carving the chalice and his dream, and my mother’s tears it overwhelmed her.

What I remember about The Exodus was pain. I think that still resonates within me. When I watch movies or read books that make me feel on that level, like Schindler’s List, or The Book Thief, I feel it deep down in my soul.

Sometimes after mom had read our favorite stories, she’d sit on the edge of my bed and we’d have imagine time. I slept on the trundle bed, my younger brother Robert had the top bunk, and my youngest brother Jon (at that time) had the bottom bunk. Mom would give us a prompt, like “Imagine a house” and then we would tell her what was in it, what was around it, what the yard was like. What kind of people lived there, what kind of animals. Was there magic, were there fairies, what happened there? I remember being afraid of what lurked in the woods in my world.

My dad loved books as much as my mother, just different kinds. While mom appreciated fiction and fantasy in children’s books, she kept to classics and things grounded in reality for her personal reading choices. But dad, I think his brain was always in space or working out a way to build a rocket to get there.  When he wasn’t tinkering with TV’s or computers, he was reading.
 -- Remember vacuum tubes? I do. Dad had an entire collection of tubes in all sizes because he repaired people’s TV’s.  He also got a couple of Apple II E’s back in the day, tore them apart, figured out how they worked and built new ones, then showed my brother and I the basics of programming and told us if we wanted to play games, that’s how we made them.--

Dad’s collection of books was all sci-fi and fantasy. He never read out loud, but his love for the stories was evident. His book collection was huge. He had everything from The Wizard of Oz to Dune. His favorite authors were Heinlein, Asimov, Andre Norton, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Anne McCaffrey. I read Dune for the first time in 6th Grade, my teacher convinced I’d picked a book much too hard and complicated. My reaction? I wanted to be able to leave secret messages on plants and use a special voice that would make people do what I wanted.

After my parents divorce and our move to a different state, I didn't see my dad for a couple of years. I think I read every single science fiction novel my Jr. High had in it's little library in order to feel close to him. 

In High School, I remember falling in love with To Kill A Mockinbird, 1984, and For Those I Loved. I was introduced to Poe, Emily Dickenson, and Theatre of the Absurd. And mostly I wondered why literature that was so unhappy and dry was considered great. (Grapes of Wrath anyone? Ethan Frome? Old Man and the Sea? Oh, I read them. And did not enjoy them at all. Perhaps it says something about my psyche that I enjoyed the play Equus much more than I enjoyed the novel "For Whom The Bell Tolls.") I kept the list of suggested reading, and after graduation made sure I read everything on it, including the plays. But the authors and books my friends and I discovered meant more to me than anything ever assigned by a teacher.

Is it any surprise that my own book collection reflects the diverse genres I was exposed to as a child? I, too, have shelves filled with my own collections of sci-fi and fantasy, as well as classical literature, Shakespeare, and a large collection of children’s stories, including the very same, very old, books my mother read to me. I prefer the books with more happy than sad, but I will never ever let go of my copy of The Book Thief. Ever. Even though it makes me cry.

I have a deep and abiding love for stories, whether they are short, long, of this world or out of it. And every time I sit down to write, I can hear my mother’s voice asking me to tell her about the world, what lives there, and why.

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