This post is inspired by Em’s brilliant posts here and here. It is not so much a response to the questions posed in these posts because I have moved around a lot and books – precious books – have been lost and donated and exchanged over the years and no longer grace my bookcase. So this is more a rumination of sorts about the books that winged their way to me when I was a young reader. Back then in my glorious youth I was very (very) generous, even eager to share my love of reading with others. I am wiser now about who gets to foster my books for a few days. I have been called names no doubt by a few Philistines but it’s ok I won’t have my books’ spines twisted out of shape or their papery ears bent in punishment.
I was born into a house of barren walls and empty nooks with the only warmth emanating from the generations-old, leather-bound Bible in my mother’s bedroom. I was drawn to that book like a moth to a flame and I remember sitting with that Bible in my lap for hours on end paging through it before I could read. It is my first memory with regards to books. It stands to reason then that the Bible was my favorite ‘story book’ as a child. I read it still, every day.
Painting by Steve Hanks
I was blessed with a fairy godmother. I have no idea when my godmother realized I loved books (she only visited on my birthday and on religious holidays) but I remember receiving Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree series and a set of The Famous Five one super fine Christmas Day. I must have read and reread those books a hundred times in my own secret place (in the crook of an entwining limb of our fig and apricot trees).
Just before my eighth birthday I plucked up the courage to ask for a book from my mom. My sister and I knew better than to ask for anything because mother was always reminding us that ‘money does not grow on trees’ but I was desperate to OWN books. While other children went to sleep dreaming of building sand castles I was inspired by tales of great libraries like the Library of Alexandria . If I hoped to amass an impressive collection in my lifetime I had to start early. I needed another book more than I needed another pair of Bata toughees (we got a new pair every year for our growing feet because apparently our feet grew an inch or two on the anniversary of our births). I seem to think I asked her for a book of Fairy Tales. Something gloriously covered (velvety cloth, soft leather) and dusted with gold with faeries sprouting out of toadstools and unicorns in sunny dales. But here’s what I got. It was on sale.
Gus Ferguson’s ‘Snail Morning’. This was my first book of poems. Gus Ferguson’s poetry is arresting and clever and wry but I don’t believe this celebrated poet intended it for small children. If I have any regrets it is that I lost this book. I wish I still had it so I could share some excerpts with you. I credit this book with gifting me with a love of molluscs but it is also the first book that made it abundantly clear to me that a great writer is a good observer.
My parents were never ‘together’. They were married for ten years on paper (they were teenagers when I was born) and my father led his own life. So when he did visit – days that always seemed especially golden, especially bright – he would drive my sister and I to a bookstore downtown. He would sit in a corner of the bookstore reading The Sunday Times while my sister whined that she would rather be shopping for shoes and I too happy to pay her any heed would browse for a few glorious hours. We would always leave with a book. One book. And usually because my sister is younger and prettier and not a reader I would be the one to choose the book. Those were good times. That’s how I amassed my collection of Dr Seuss and Roald Dahl. If you’re a child or an evergreen teenager at heart I highly recommend using your parent’s guilt to get you books.
Do you remember your first book/s? The book/s that made you fall hopelessly and helplessly in love with stories and words? I’d love to hear from you.