I am an avid reader. Some of my earliest memories include books and stories. My mom tells me when I was potty training, she would sit me on the potty chair with a book and I’d stay there forever. I don’t know what this says about my personality, exactly, but it is definitely a testament to how much I love to read. I count myself very lucky to have been raised amongst people who were (and are) passionate about stories, literature, poetry and self-expression. From my very earliest years, a love of books was cultured in me and it has served me well my whole life.
I suppose that is why I’m sentimental about the written word. I have a bookshelf in my living room that is designated for “special” books. It contains my book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that my mom gave to me when I turned 10, inscribed with “Happy Birthday, Love Mom”. It holds my beloved Roald Dahl collection, Shel Silverstein, my collection of Jim Morrison’s poetry, dog eared and covered in notes and highlighted passages (from my teenage years in which I was fairly obsessed with the Lizard King), my book of Beatles lyrics, the Bhagavad Gita, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, books on mythology and music, Kay Redfield Jamison’s Touched with Fire, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Entire Collection of Dr. Seuss, Shakespeare’s Tragedies, The Great Gatsby (my favorite book of all time), autographed YA fiction, and Linda Goodman’s Star Signs, to name a few. These books are my prized possessions; books I’ve read so many times I have passages memorized.
I think of my books like my children. I have so many volumes that I ran out of room years ago. My bookshelves in my office are cluttered with women’s studies texts, books on various world religions, poetry volumes and way more cookbooks than I could ever need. I have books floating around attic space at my dad’s house; tucked away in storage at my old home in New Zealand; collecting dust at various friend’s places; stacked on the back of the toilet in the bathroom, and waiting in the backseat of my car. Books follow me everywhere. I am a certifiable book nerd. It is a rare occasion that I am not reading at least two or three books at once. At any given time, I’m usually reading a new work of fiction I’ve never read before, an old work of fiction that I love and read over and over again for comfort, and something non-fiction to break up the monotony. I even read in the bathtub.
When I was a little girl, my dad would tell me a story every night. He left them open-ended and would continue on with the story for weeks and weeks on end. They took on lives of their own, becoming verbal novellas, each day’s story becoming more crazy than the next. He made up stories about his own personal interests: Van Halen, professional wrestling, and working as a DJ. And I loved it. I watched Reading Rainbow every single day. Even now, I follow LaVar Burton on Twitter.
My mom would always give me books for Christmas and birthdays. I fell in love with fairy tales, Roald Dahl, and Dr. Seuss because of her. Even now, she takes every opportunity to pass on things she thinks I might enjoy. I have her to thank for Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Forever Amber, and the illustrious and amazing Margaret George (if you haven’t read her historical fiction, you should).
By the time I was in middle school I’d read the entire Weetzie Bat series, everything by Roald Dahl and Lois Lowry (The Giver remains one of my favorite books), and had moved on to Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles. 12 was a pretty tender age to be tackling such material, but I enoyed her writing style so immensely that I devoured them all like candy. I also had the entire 100+ collection of the Sweet Valley High series, though by the time I was 13 I’d outgrown the writing style (I bought the entire collection on eBay once just to reread them and see what all the fuss was about, and I read them all in a weekend, trying not to die from laughter). During summer break, instead of riding bikes and swimming in the river like the rest of my friends, I’d sprawl out on the porch swing and read The Diary of Anne Frank.
By high school I had discovered the joys of the classics. Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Shakespeare, Harper Lee, and Edgar Allen Poe were among my favorite writers. I was one of the few students in English class who was filled with excitement for every new required book. I read ahead in my English texts, and tackled things like Anna Karenina for my research papers. By the time I was 17, I’d already filled up huge two binders with my own poetry and fiction, and had begun to dream of becoming a writer.
In college I discovered my beloved Margaret Atwood, New Zealand writers like Witi Ihimaera and Maurice Gee, who opened up worlds beyond the ones I’d ever experienced. I learned about other cultures, and much about myself, through the books I read. I took on jobs related to writing and editing, had an article published in my hometown’s local college paper, and relished writing and reading like never before.
Books mean the world to me. As I take on more and more responsibilities in my day to day life, I have less time for pleasure-reading. I miss it. I need books for sustenance. They make me happy, they make me think, they help me relax. They educate me.
Right now I’m reading the second book in the Millenium Series by Steig Larsson, The Girl Who Played with Fire. I’ve fallen in love with Lisbeth Salander and her apathetic, matter of fact self-sufficiency. I read the first book of the series in less than a week. I’m fascinated by the fact that as a teenager, Larsson witnessed a gang rape of a young girl and did not do anything to help. The incident haunted him for the rest of his life and prompted him to write these books in his later years. He named the main character, Lisbeth, after the girl victim, and dedicated his novels to heroes and heroines fighting against sex crimes and violence against women.
I will never, ever buy a Kindle. I love books too much. The way the pages smell, the way an old book almost crumbles in your hands, the artwork and the type. I love having a new novel in my hands – the crispness of it, a new adventure just waiting to be unleashed when you open the first page.
Do you fellow ladies of the page feel the same as me? If you had a personal “shelf of favorites” such as I do, which books would be on it? What stories have spoken to you through the years?
photo credit: Persistence Unlimited