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.
I read everything.
Cereal boxes.
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?