For my first Musing Monday, I would have liked to have written something new, but I covered this topic a couple of years ago at my other place, so here it is, slightly edited. The topic is: Do you remember how you developed a love for reading? Was it from a particular person, or person(s)? Do you remember any books that you read, or were read to you, as a young child? My answer:
On my fourth birthday, my aunt gave me the perfect present. I have had thirty-five birthdays, and no present has yet outstripped what my aunt gave me the year I turned four (unless you count Zachary, who was born three weeks before my thirty-first birthday or Lilah, born two days before my thirty-fifth).
The year I turned four, my aunt called to ask what I wanted for my birthday. My answer was swift and certain. “Dorothy.” Then, my sister got on the phone to translate. A few weeks later, it arrived. It was faux leather-bound with gold leaf. Throughout the text, there were color illustrations, the bold yellow of the brick road and the intense red of the poppies only slightly less enchanting than that dress on Glinda.
Oh, the dress on Glinda.
I wanted it read to me all the time. Anyone who had advanced beyond a rudimentary understanding of the alphabet was conscripted to sound out a chapter or two. Over and over, until, within a month or two, I had pretty much memorized the entire book. I suppose I had probably already begun to read, but I clearly remember pairing the words I knew in my head with the words I saw on the page and so learning to read from The Wizard of Oz.
Once I could read, things got a little crazy. Books, magazines, newspapers, words I did not understand, concepts I could not process. Shampoo bottles, delivery trucks, billboards. I was addicted, and there were fixes everywhere.
It was just in the nick of time. A year later, my father remarried. My stepmother took over the household, and I read. She started hitting us, and I read. She starved us; I read. She took away my clothes, our food, our father; I read. When the leisure time disappeared, I read at school or while dusting the books.
Through the step-mother years, I let myself go with Beverly Cleary. Through the years with my grandparents, with Judy Blume and Isaac Bashevis Singer. Through the Aunt years, with Tennessee Williams, Jane Austin, Douglas Adams, Sidney Sheldon, and Margaret Mitchell. Through flight delays, bad boyfriends, skipped classes, social failures. Waiting for the fry cook to get my order up, sitting in waiting rooms, dripping with sweat on the elliptical. Through Octavia Butler, James Baldwin, Wendy Wasserstein, Paula Vogel, and one short fling with James Joyce (long book, short fling). Through fertility treatment, pregnancy, breastfeeding.
Reading is portable, good for the soul, and as cheap as a library card, but it is bad for the eyes. Every year, my prescription got worse, till the optometrist had to call in reinforcements each time I lost a contact lens. I couldn’t see my own feet in the shower, but I was sure ready for the verbal section on all those standardized tests.
My children, too, seem to have learned there is incredible comfort in books. One day, I left toddler Benjamin along in the living room. After a few minutes, I got a little nervous, because there was no banging, shouting, or squealing going on. I peeked my head back in. My little 14 month old was sitting in the middle of the floor with “Quack Quack,” a book he adored due to his waterfowl obsession. He had it open to the page with the sheep and was reading it to himself. “Baaaaah,” he said softly.
I quietly backed out of the room. No one likes to be disturbed in the middle of a good book.