A childhood in books

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.

Steve Hanks

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.





3 thoughts on “A childhood in books

  1. What an interesting post, and so very evocative!
    I too loved The Faraway Tree books. We’d visit my grandfather every weekend and, once my sister and I were old enough to receive pocket money, he’d always put aside a £1 coin and a shiny 20p coin for each of us. The £1 coin used to be lodged into our post office accounts every Monday but the 20p was ours to spend during the week. I think those 20p coins bought me every Blyton I could lay my hands on. And when I got married years later, a decade after my grandfather passed away, all those saved £1 coins bought a signed first edition of my husband’s favourite book as a wedding gift from my granddad and I.
    My dad used to read to us every night. My sister and I had twin beds separated by a bedside locker which held the entirety of our book collection at that point. We had a science encyclopedia, a child’s book of prayers, one of those story-for-every-day-of-the-year collections and a treasury of verse. After we’d said our prayers, it was always poetry that lulled us to sleep. My dad and I can still alternate verses of the poems from that book and it has been one of the joys of my life to hear him recite those lines from memory to my little niece and nephew. Books, bonds and babies – such blessings!

    • ah yes! those story-for-every-day-of-the-year collections I remember those! I think I owned a copy or two and encyclopedias! I remember coveting a set of WORLD BOOKS – never got them though ;-( Thanks for sharing Em, you were truly blessed to grow up among readers!

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