One of my first memories in life is of a book. I couldn’t have been much more than three, as my little brother had not yet arrived on the scene, but I still vividly remember the large purple hardback with the silver engraving of a small woman in small hat with a flower. It was Mary Poppins. I loved the time spent in my mother’s lap, hearing the cadence of her voice, feeling the weight of the book on my legs, breathing in the smell of the crisp pages. It was a quiet time in which new worlds were opened.
My next great book experience was discovering the library. I believe I still have my first library card stored among all the other keepsakes of my life. This first library was home to a fantastic miniature collection of the stories of Beatrix Potter. The books were perfectly sized for a four year-old’s hands. The pages had small pen-and-ink sketches that illustrated the stories. The pages themselves were a revelation, having been treated to make them smooth and sturdy, unlike the fragile paper pages of other books. I loved these books, although I have no recollection of the actual stories. Years later I found out my mother disliked these books intensely, yet she still read them to me, letting me experience the joy of literature.
My most embarrassing foray into books involves several pre-adolescent years obsessed with serial novels like Nancy Drew, The Baby-Sitters Club, and something I believe was called Sleepover Friends. While the Nancy Drew series is a classic, the others don’t rate very highly in the literary world. But at least I was reading. My sixth grade teacher, disturbed by my pop-fiction diet, forced me to read Little Woman, which I did grudgingly and formed a distorted opinion of the book that wasn’t corrected until many years latter. I never did very well with assigned reading. Especially when those assigned readings involved The Pearl by John Steinbeck, Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, or The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. To this day I avoid anything by Steinbeck. And Tess of the D’Urbervilles did little to change my mind about Hardy.
Part of my joy in reading is the discovery. The excitement of wandering down the stacks in a library or the shelves in a book store and knowing that something there will open a new world to me and possibly change my life. Books have power. The power to enlighten, to educate, to entertain, and to engage the mind in a direction it might not previously have gone.