1.One of my earliest memories is walking with my mom down the hill from our third story apartment in an old turn-of-the-century clapboard house to the public library on the edge of downtown Kent, Ohio. I must have been only three–but I still remember (hazily, mind you!) participating in the circus themed summer reading program where I made some sort of lumpy play-doh circus animal (I think it was an elephant!) that was added to a diorama in the children’s room.
2. I read Tom Sawyer in second grade. The real deal. Now mind you, I didn’t know what the heck I was reading, but I knew, somehow, the book was important. It was the first book I chose after I was allowed to check out a book from any shelf of the school library (not just the early readers section) and I was so proud. But to get there I had to prove my mettle and read through an entire series of books with my teacher. I was quite insulted. I still remember one page to this day: “Up. Up. How far is up?” Are ya kidding me?!
3. My aunt gave me Sendak’s Nutshell Library a couple years after it was published, even though I was (technically) too old at age 10. Still, I knew the stories frontwards and backwards, so when we did poetry writing in fifth grade, I was indignant when another girl submitted Pierre as her own poem. (And now that I think of it, I’m rather flummoxed the teacher didn’t recognize Sendak!) Sure, I ratted out the other kid, but in my mind I was defending my real friend, the book.
4. I have hundreds upon hundreds of books. My biggest furniture purchases have all been bookshelves–I buy a new one and think, “Oh my gosh–I’ll never fill all these shelves” and start stacking books on the floor all over again a few months later.
5. My best job ever was working part time in an independent bookstore for several years. A reader’s dream come true: publisher reps with Advance Reader’s Copies and all the latest news on who was publishing what and when (this was before the internet, mind you, and the fastest way to get information was USPS mailed catalogues); aisle after aisle of books to browse (and shelve, I might add–a pox on the travel and antique sections); coworkers who R.E.A.D. as much as I did and actually talked about books; customers who did the same (and also a few who asked for “some book with a red cover that was on Regis and Kathy Lee …”); borrowing books minus the dust jacket to read very, very carefully at home.
6. Probably because of #4, I love, love love the movie You’ve Got Mail.
7. By the time I was about twelve, my parents didn’t know what the heck I was reading. Because of that I often read some books I probably shouldn’t have–like the provocative Daddy Was a Number Runner in seventh grade. (Which, I found out a few years ago, is something of a classic but definitely not reading material for a naive junior high student.) But I learned to be discerning. I learned to sniff out quality. And I did it on my own–talk about empowering.
8. I was worried my kids would grow up to hate reading because I usually had a book in my hand, and I thought they might be jealous of my attention. Granted, sometimes the book was a children’s book, but still. I cooked dinner with a book on the counter, I sat on the porch and read while I “watched” them play, I nursed them and read. But they turned out okay. Better than okay, actually–all three are readers.
9. I had a phenomenal English program in high school. We took 9 week courses (I think I remember there were thirty-some choices) whose topics ran deep and wide: Modern Novel, Creative Writing, American Lit 20s-40s, Shakespeare. How fun for the teachers to have the incredible freedom to design a class around something they loved. (That American Lit course was taught by a teacher writing his Masters thesis on … F. Scott Fitzgerald.) But I was assigned Catcher in the Rye twice, so there’s that! Not quite curriculum-y enough by today’s standards. Students could also elect a humanities track, too, but those kids read Greek and Roman classics and took Latin–for this reading addict, that was just too limiting. Yikes, I now think–what an opportunity I missed.
10. Following in the steps of friend Denice (she of the bookstore staff in #5) I now leave an Easter Egg in many of my books–a photo, a ticket stub, a receipt, a postcard, but rarely something as pedestrian as a bookmark. So when I’m dead and gone and my kids are divvying up my books, they’ll find a bit of this ‘n that–maybe an inside joke, maybe a secret message, maybe a clue to the me they didn’t know–hidden in the pages of the books that I could never put down.