I can’t remember a time when I didn’t read, at least a little bit, every single day. Throughout my childhood, I always read long after I was supposed to have turned out the light at night. In fact I still do, mindful not to laugh at the funny bits and wake my husband, gently snoring away next to me. Story time, then Reading, then English, then Literature – anything to do with books was always my absolute favorite class from pre-school all the way through to university.
I’m so grateful for this part of my life. No matter how busy or how broke I have ever been in my life, I have always found enough time and enough money to explore new authors, new stories, new worlds. Where did it start, this pleasure, this lifelong passion? What makes such booklovers of some of us, and infuses us with a fevered fervor for the written word?
My first book-related memory is a fuzzy one. The daughter of my mother’s friend was babysitting me, and had read me a story about fairies. I don’t remember what book specifically, but I remember falling asleep afterward, with vivid, absolutely lifelike pictures in my head of fairies in beautiful dresses, wearing acorn caps as hats, drinking from rain-filled buttercups, sleeping curled under spotted toadstools. As I fell asleep, I remember feeling a sense of delight and wonder that black marks on a page, words, could have caused these pictures and adventures to come to life in my head.
The main driver of my love of reading was undoubtedly my mother. A lifelong reader and book nerd herself, she couldn’t stop herself from making up rhymes and silly songs, and telling me stories both real and imagined. Fortunately, I loved it, as had my older sister before me. If you ask me what makes an adult a good reader for children, I think an enormous part of it is one’s willingness to abandon all self-consciousness and make a total fool of oneself in the name of fun. My mum did so like a pro, stomping about the room, making silly faces and of course doing different voices for all the characters. Even if sometimes the goal of bedtime (to lull a child into a drowsy state, ready for sleep) was wildly postponed, she made bedtime fun, and memorable, and happy. Some of the books I remember her reading include Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman, and Thump, Thump, Thump by Anne Rockwell. She was always happy to talk about books, or read the same story for the 10th night in a row, or make sure that the Christmas tree had several books among the brightly-colored packages under its branches. I look at my 14-month-old son now, and I read to him, and he laughs at the voices and smacks the pages, and I think – yes. Here we go.
One wonderful example of how the AbeBooks Wants System can work – one of the books my mother read to me most often when I was little was Am I a Bunny? by Ida DeLage. It was published two months after I was born. She and I both have very fond memories of our time with that book. So when I began my career with AbeBooks in 2000, I thought it would be a nice thing to get her a copy as a Mother’s Day present. Little did I know the book was long out-of-print and highly sought after. We had a copy on the site, sure, but it was $400! Far beyond too rich for my blood. So I created a “Want”, indicating that I would like to be notified if a copy came up for under $100.00. And in the 14 years since, that want has only been matched four times, including in 2004, when a copy for a very affordable price came available, and I had the quick thumbs and good fortune to secure the sale. My mum cried when she opened it on Mother’s Day. Worth every penny!
My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Hollick, very much furthered my love of reading. She was a gentle, kind woman, with a sense of humor and an obvious genuine love of children. And she was a born storyteller. She read us the Clement Clarke Moore poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, aka “Twas The Night Before Christmas” with such enthusiasm that we were all on the edge of our little seats. She delighted in teaching, and we all loved her so much we yearned to learn. In grade one we were mainly reading from those old-school reading primers, Dick and Jane style. I was ahead, having learned to read when I was three, so was allowed to do some reading on my own, quietly, during class as well.
One of my very favorite books from back then was The BFG by Roald Dahl. I absolutely loved it, and must have read it six times the month I got it. I couldn’t get enough. I believe it was the first I ever read of Roald Dahl’s books, and I quickly sought the others over the following years. The Witches was a favorite, as were Matilda and James and the Giant Peach . I liked The Twits and George’s Marvellous Medicine less, but still more than most other books. Roald Dahl became the first author whose works I consciously sought and collected, spending my allowance on any battered copy that might cross the shelves at the secondhand bookshop near our home.
I was a big fan of series, though – Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne books were Canadian classics I loved wholeheartedly (and could relate to, as a precocious ginger-headed child), and the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder were read so often that the first three were falling apart. Something about that totally foreign (to me) landscape of building houses from logs, slaughtering pigs and making maple sugar candy was endlessly appealing.
Even further removed from my reality was A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I loved the story of this book, but it was the characters who hooked me so completely – I absolutely had to read more about Meg and Charles Wallace Murry, and Calvin O’Keeffe, and all the rest. I read her following three books as well, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters, though I liked each a little bit less than the one that came before it, and my heart still lies with A Wrinkle in Time to this day.
There have been so many books since, and I’m simultaneously energized and comforted by the knowledge that there will be so many books yet to come. I wonder how many books I have read? I would estimate in the neighborhood of 2000. How high would they reach, stacked? How far, laid end to end? When I die, and there is no more reading left for me in this world, I hope that my heaven has two rooms dedicated to books – one with shelves filled with every book I ever read in life, and one, much larger one, filled with every book I could ever hope to read. Because in the afterlife, surely, there will be a very comfortable chair, excellent light to read by, no telemarketers to ring my phone, and plenty, plenty of time to read.
What about you? Leave me a comment and let me know what people, books and circumstances led you to be the lovesick book-worshiper you are.