According to my mother, I started reading at age three and a half. (One of my favorite authors started reading at age two, which makes me jealous for some reason. 😉 )
Regardless, I quite literally cannot remember not being able to read. I do, however, remember being rather frustrated in the hospital after my tonsillectomy (age four, I think, or a little older) because I wanted to read my book to the nurses — even though it hurt to talk.
Yes, I apparently have always liked to talk…but that’s another post…
Books have always been important to me because reading was so important to my mother. She also loved to read, and it was one of her greatest frustrations when her eyesight got *just* bad enough that reading, even with a magnifying glass, was simply too uncomfortable for her. When I worked at the library, I offered to bring home large-print books for her, but she turned me down. I think she felt that if she couldn’t read on her own terms, she wouldn’t do it at all.
Which struck me then as very much like cutting off your nose to spite your face (and it still does). Why on earth would you not want to continue doing something that gave you pleasure? Had she said it was because the large-print versions of her favorite books were likely to have been significantly condensed and she didn’t want to lose that much of the story, or be wondering what had been cut out of a book she’d never read before and WHAT IF THEY CUT OUT TOO MUCH OF THE GOOD STUFF to keep the physical book a reasonable size, I might have understood. But to flat-out deny yourself the option?
That made me very sad. Because she was the one who’d taught me to read, and to love reading.
And I did love it, and do love it, and I cannot imagine a time that I won’t love it. Books are almost as necessary to me as breathing, they are meat and drink to me, and if I ever fail to perk up at the idea of a new book to read…well, to paraphrase, Robert Heinlein, dig a hole and push me in, because I probably haven’t noticed I’ve died.
The book I wanted to read to the nurses? The Pony Who Couldn’t Say Neigh. There was one about Poppyseed, the firehouse dog. The Ginger Horse, about the bond between a reluctant mine pony and a Scottish boy who also doesn’t want to work the mines. The Golden Egg Book, in which a bunny finds an egg and wonders what’s inside. Miss Pickerell on the Moon, with her kitten in its wee space suit finding a special kind of dirt that helped cure an illness. Somewhere in there was a book with Carl Sandburg’s “Fog”, and was always sorry I could never catch the fog on its little cat feet.
The Nancy Drew books, of course, and some of the Bobbsey Twins. Reader’s Digest Best Loved Books for Young Readers, in which I discovered the joys of nonfiction (The Microbe Hunters), biography (Marie Curie and Helen Keller), and fictions galore — Sherlock Holmes, Edgar Allan Poe (“For the love of God, Montresor!“), Robin Hood, King Arthur and his knights, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, Green Mansions, The Hunchback of Notre Dame… I didn’t read every single book in every volume, sadly enough, but I read most of them, I think.
The World Book Encyclopedia, with the two-volume dictionary I read cover to cover, and a set of companion volumes bound in white faux leather embossed in gold, with science projects and faraway places (the glowworm cave!) and more stories (The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins).
And that was before I was 10. Well, I might have been 12 or 13 when I tackled the dictionary.
It wasn’t long after that Mom let me start reading her Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, where Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House stands out as a particular favorite.
And I haven’t stopped. Books are information and education and entertainment, and in many cases a delight for the senses, from the embossing on the dust jacket to the texture of the paper, a beautifully designed typeface on a crisp white page (or in the case of House of Leaves, black and red and blue print running forwards, or backwards, upside down, along the margins, footnotes as long as chapters…and I’m still not sure I understand it, but I’ll be giving it another try. Of course I will — why not?), the rustle of the pages as I turn them, the faint hint of vanilla in old books as the lignan in the wood pulp breaks down, the incense that permeated every book I touched at the Bodhi Tree…
I am so grateful to my mother for teaching me to read.
Have you read any good books lately?