6.30.2005

For the Love of Books

Writing about compulsive book-buying made me want to write about the history of my relationship with books, and about loving books and reading. If this is boring, let me know.

I have a lot of memories of being read to by my father, mother, and paternal grandmother before I was old enough to read (Alice in Wonderland, Charlotte's Web, My Father's Dragon, The Borrowers). My maternal grandfather used to "read" to us from this plastic organizer thing, before I could read. I thought entire stories were contained in those plastic sleeves. It turns out that they were contained in his head, which was even better!

I don't have an earliest memory of going to the library, but I know I went to "story hour" at a young age, and I know that I wasn't too fond of some of the stupid (to me, at the time) songs we sang. In addition to story hour, I remember doing puzzles at the library, and I remember my mother telling me that we couldn't borrow the little, itty-bitty Beatrix Potter books because we would lose them. (I think my mother, instead, read Peter Rabbit to me at the library.)

The first book I read on my own was Pat the Bunny. It was a Shabbat afternoon. I was six years old. As was the custom in my home on Shabbat afternoons, everyone was reading and I wanted to also. I read the whole book and was so proud of myself. And I was off and running... By second grade, I was really into biographies, and by fourth grade, I had written about the mystery and magic of the local public library in my lock-and-key diary.

Most of the books I read were from the library, but I bought some books also. I ordered books of this and this genre from the Scholastic Book Club and other publishers' fliers that we got at school. The only time I ever really got into trouble in elementary school was when I was caught reading a Babysitters' Club book inside my desk in 4th grade. I am also not ashamed to admit that I loved the Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High books, although I satiated my need for those in the summers in Palo Alto, where the public library carried them. (It turned out that high school was nothing like Sweet Valley High!) I still like reading "low brow," bestselling new fiction kinds of books. When my allowance was large enough, I started going to the local discount bookstore, Royal Books, and bought my own books. For some occasion, my greant-aunts Sarah, Rose, and Marion, the divine ladies of Los Angeles, took me to B. Dalton Booksellers and let me pick any book of my choosing! Always budget-conscious, I decided to get my money's worth and have them purchase A Little Princess, which was the longest book I could fathom reading at the time. I think I was about seven, and I think it was a few more years before I actually read it.

Since Pat the Bunny, I basically haven't stopped reading, although in college I read a lot fewer books than I did before or after. (I bought more, however.) I think it was because I had so much assigned reading that it made me want to read less. I didn't feel like I could indulge in pleasure reading when I had so much not-yet-done assigned reading, and there was no way I would ever get all of the assigned reading done. So I more or less gave up on full-length books and switched to magazines.

The other thing about books is that there's something deeply aesthetically pleasing about a new book. I mostly own paperbacks, but I especially love the heft of hardcover books. And the smell of new books when you open them for the first time! Yum!

My love of reading has given me at least two things: the ability to never be bored and a great way to escape when this world seems too oppressive. I much prefer to escape into books than to escape into movies, although nothing beats TV for pure mindlessness.

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