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Who is this one woman? Well, modestly I raise my hand. How else can I tell the world how much they have changed me and made me who I am? Today is the day it goes in black and white.
When I was a very young girl, with an active imagination, I spent hours pouring over books. My daughter Evelyn, who is
currently three, does this now everyday for an hour more, or until she falls asleep. Because she’s a girl after my own heart, we keep her stack ready of thirty to forty books which include Disney stories old and new, a large selection of Dr. Suess, and a random sampling of I Can Read books like the Berenstain Bears or Frog and Toad. It was in a book that I learned that dogs could indeed be bigger than houses and at four years old I would have gone to my friend’s house a few houses away, but I was so certain that large dog was there as soon as I opened the door. My dad was skeptical, but he had no idea nor imagination. That dog kept me safe in the house as no four year old has any business traveling down the road by oneself.
The three Little Bears Golden book along with The Little Red Hen Golden Book taught me many lessons. Animals had feelings and normal lives. The Little Red Hen opened my eyes to my first decorating lessons. I spent hours studying her bedroom at the back of the book. The Magic Dragon brought more color and delicious possibilities to my mind and imagination. Go Dogs Go always ended with a party and I learned that all parties need hats and blowers. This tradition my daughter Madison still insists on today; she has also studied the party for hours and days of her life in Go Dogs Go!
Books read aloud connected me to my family and parents and during some of the toughest times in my life you could find me sitting in a library reading and writing. Sometimes, I would just sit because my thoughts are always clearer in places full of books.
I gulped down the entire collection of Sherlock Holmes with my morning breakfasts of cinnamon and sugar toast, extra butter. Bathroom time was never boring when I was solving a mystery with Nancy Drew and trying to avoid chores. My passion for the workings of the body were fed through the medical self-help books my parents kept in our home library. I shared this love with my family by creating an A to Z guide in a song. Abbey Alligator had allergies, Betty Ballerina had Bells Palsy and by the time I got to Jessica Jogger with jock itch my parents realized there was a lot more learning that needed to be done and my song was abruptly ended with snorts of laughter on their part. I was eleven.
As I was nearing my early teen years, a best friend introduced me to Anne of Green Gables, and it completely changed the
way I saw the world. It was much more colorful and friendly. I was only limited by my imagination, and everything should be named and named beautifully. Gilbert Blythe was my first love and Green Gables my home away from Home. I don’t think I slept until all the books in the series were greedily read.
During my teen years, I disappeared into Interview with a Vampire, reread The Hiding Place more times than I can count, and found a fascination with self-help books of all natures: how to flirt, make your own facials, how to read body language, and homemaking. I drove all my friends crazy by quoting Miss Manners and correcting their ill-manners and wore an apron around the house whenever I could.
As a young mom, I somehow took on a crazy notion: I didn’t have time for literature, I only had time for self-help books. I devoured them. I read every pregnancy and motherhood book that interested me and how-to-do-everything-yourself books.
Thankfully I wizened up at some point in my twenties and started enjoying memoirs, biographies, autobiographies, and great and sometimes not so great literature. When I began homeschooling my children I realized that while I knew some of the classics, I was but a babe in a library. A whole world of possibilities and unknown greatness was now laid before me with a glorious invitation: read. Learn. Enjoy. But read. Up until this time I only read at night or would go weeks in between reading. I believed myself too busy to read. I was only fooling myself. I just didn’t make it essential to read regularly and “shock of shocks” during the day! I smile at my naivety.
Today, I devour hundreds of books a year, dozens of books a month. Classics, great literature, essay compilations, short stories, children’s books, religious books, self-help books, books on books…well, you get the idea. The list is endless. Reading has improved my thinking. Reading has improved my logic and reasoning. Reading has helped illuminate human nature and makes it easy for me to see broadly and with more clarity. Reading has made me a better person, wife, mother, daughter, friend, writer, business woman, homeschooler, gospel scholar, and so forth. Reading so much and so often has made me a faster reading. I understand more. It’s improved my vocabulary and my critical thinking skills. The amazing fact is—reading does this to everyone who chooses to indulge, make habit, provide time for, and just does it. Its a simple formula: reading good books makes you a better person and expands your mind. It’s simple.
I’m unapologetically informal with books. I choose to own them more often than borrow because of this. Everyone finds their own relationship with books that works best for them. I shared a meme the other day on Facebook about how people who dog ear pages are monsters and proclaimed myself a dog ear monster. Lest one worries that I don’t own a bookmark, I’m just as obsessed with collecting these as I am about adding to my six thousand volume home library. I love and I use them. I also use anything else available: receipts, postcards, scribbled paper, reminder notes, the flap of a book jacket, photographs, or other random items that are thin in nature. I write in my books, I highlight my books, I put notes in the front or back. I record my thoughts. I journal. I quote other people. I dog ear pages for quotes to record later, sometimes to mark a page, but more often to save important pages that are also underlined. I do workshops, classes, write articles, teach from, and reference often from the books I read that I love having my favorite references easy to find. My books are an extension of who I am and reflect what I think and believe.
I often see book snobs talking about how they only buy the most beautiful editions, the fanciest illustrations, and so forth. I have too suffered from my own form of book snobbery and have many beautiful and collectible editions, but I don’t get much pleasure from them. I won’t mark those ones up or dog ear or reference from these books. I usually have multiple copies of these particular works for the very reasons stated above. I need books to be a part of my daily life. I don’t live in a museum. I have too many chubby, little, curious hands around learning about life in our home.
Anne Fadiman has to be one of my favorite fellow book lovers. In her book Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader she so openly expresses her informal and passionate relationship with books. I can’t read her book often enough; it’s liberating for readers like me.
“It’s not that I think that computers don’t have their place, but surely their place is not in bed, which is my favorite place to read, and surely their place is not snuggled up with a cat in your lap in an old armchair. You can’t have your laptop computer and your cat in your lap simultaneously, while trying to manage a cup of tea, which you might spill on your computer. On the other hand, if you spilled your cup of tea on your book — well, Charles Lamb would probably just like it better. He once said that he particularly liked books that had old muffin crumbs in them. Muffin crumbs in your computer would not be a good idea.”
― Anne Fadiman