Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Growing up Reading

Melodee got me to thinking about books I read as a child.
My daddy didn't get to finish school, but he strongly believed in reading as the key to self-education. My mama took us to the library weekly, even though it was across town, and not very convenient. My incentive to learn to write my name was to get my own library card.
However, the librarian had some kind of silly rule about kids only being allowed to check out books from the kids' section, and only five at a time.
And I could read a bushel basket of books every week. In fact, we took a bushel basket with us every week, to carry the books we checked out. Mama said I could check out however many books I wanted, but I had to read everything I checked out, and everything had to go back the next week.
So I read.
Obsessively.
I read everything.
Cereal boxes.
Billboards.
Newspapers.
Magazines.
Old textbooks that had belonged to my mama's older brothers when they were in elementary school.
And my ambition was to read every book in the library.
I have no idea where I got such an idea, but at least I was systematic about it.
I started in the children's section, with the A's, as in Alcott, Louisa May.
I read Little Women, Little Men, Jo's Boys.
I read An Old Fashioned Girl, Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom.
Under the Lilacs.
Jack and Jill.
I had no idea when I began that Miss Alcott had written so many books. I would check out two, and then the next week, some that had not been on the shelf before would appear, and I would check those out. I enjoyed Little Women and Little Men, Eight Cousins, and Rose in Bloom. The rest I just read obsessively, wanting to move on to the next author.

When I finally got to the L's I discovered Andre Lang's fairy tale books:
The Green Book of Fairy Tales.
The Crimson Book of Fairy Tales.
The Blue Book of Fairy Tales.
and so forth.

In the W's I discovered Leonora Mattingly Webber's Beany Malone series, fourteen in number, if I remember correctly. I loved series books, when I found an author I liked. Of course, if it was an author I didn't like, slogging through the whole set was just drudgery, but you know, I had set out to read every book in the library, and for the love of books, I just gritted my teeth and kept reading, even if I didn't like it.

So every week my mama took us to the library, and we checked out a bushel basket of books. I read all my books by about Tuesday, and then read everything everyone else had checked out too.
When school started, and we were issued our textbooks for the year, I went home and read them. All of them. Cover to cover. Even the credits pages.
If my grandmother left a Grace Livingston Hill Christian romance laying around, I read it.
When I went to Aunt Ruth's, I read the novels she ordered from her book club.
I found another set of novels in mama's closet, and read


The Turquoise by Anya Seton, Petticoat Surgeon - by Bertha Van Hoosen, The Light Heart by Elswyth Thane, Love Is Eternal by Irving Stone, and


Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I don't claim I understood them all, but I read them, and enjoyed them, and wanted more.
At Aunt Holmsie's house I discovered the Oz books, which enthralled me. I was so excited about them that I actually went out of order in my read-everything-in-the library crusade, and skipped from Alcott to Baum. Of course, I then had to go back and read all the volumes in between, but oh it was worth it, to spend a few weeks with Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow. And Ozma, Princess of Oz--oh, my word!
I read insatiably, voraciously. I needed to read like I needed to breathe.

I'm sure there were weeks when mama had other things she would rather do. Dragging her own four kids, plus whoever else in the neighborhood wanted to go along, couldn't have been fun sometimes. But she kept taking us, and letting us read anything we wanted to read.

Daddy questioned us about what we read, and taught me the difference between fiction and nonfiction when I was reading Smoky The Cow Horse by Will James.


Did I read some inappropriate books? Probably. Did I understand everything I read? No. Did I read some trash? Again, probably. Did it hurt me? I don't think so. Books let my imagination soar, taught me about the importance of choosing the right word in the right place, and became the basis for interminable conversations at the dinner table.

What do you read?
And why?

6 comments:

Mel said...

Wow! What a lot of reading!

I wanted to read all the books in the library, too, but it was too big of a library. I'd probably still be reading . . .

LeftCoastOnlooker said...

I never heard of Andre Lang, we'll look for these ASAP!
but I loved Beany Malone -- in fact, I was racking my brain trying to remember the name -- thx for providing that one.
I loved the Betsy series by Maud Lovelace.
I just finished Alcott's "Long Fatal Love Chase" not our "Little Women" or "Rose in Bloom", for sure.
I finished "Mansfied Park" last night!

At A Hen's Pace said...

I read like you did, I think--only not alphabetically, and a lot more Hardy Boys and horse books! I loved the Black Stallion books and Marguerite Henry's books. I enjoyed Smoky the Cowhorse, too, and another book by Will James called Horses I've Known.

Thanks for stopping by my blog--how did you find me?

Jeanne

Theresa said...

I still go back and re-visit the Alcott and Wilder books. (The little girl in me has to breathe occasionally!) Currently, I am enjoying re-reading "The Zion Covenant" series by Brock and Bodie Thoene.

CLM said...

I read Beany Malone and Betsy-Tacy and several others you mentioned but I also adored all the Williamsburg novels by Elswyth Thane. I have complete sets of all three but I think it might be the Thanes I would rescue if the house were on fire! My mother once pointed out something that Betsy Was a Junior and The Light Heart have in common. Do you remember them well enough to guess?

Jan/lost-strayed-or-stolen.blogspot.com said...

I remember The Light Heart quite well--I've read it several times. I don't remember Betsy so well.