Why am I doing it? Why did I agree to participate in a challenge that requires me to read 50 books and see 50 films in one year? Well, I didn’t do it for the films. Seeing 50 films is what I’m pretty sure I already do every year.
No, I did it for the love of reading. Because I adore being transported and carried away by a good read. Only, in my adulthood, I haven’t been reading nearly as much as I once did, from childhood, all the way through to my college years. Life’s demands and responsibilities have come between me and my passion for reading. And, if I’m going to be honest, I must confess that the number of TV shows I watch each week, hasn’t helped either.
So, basically, for the last 30 years, reading has been at the bottom of my To-Do list. Which, when I think of all my wonderful memories associated with reading, I have to wonder, how could this be? What made me sacrifice my love for the written word? Was it my work? The advent of the ability to record programs? Did VHS kill reading? Or was it simply the need and desire to raise and spend time with my two kids? Probably all of the above.
My memories of reading start with my childhood in Queens. Every Saturday morning, my mother would drive me to the local library and drop me off at its door, returning a few hours later to pick me up. It was a routine I grew to love. The children’s section was located on the lower level and I remember the circular staircase that led to it. I’d join the other kids there for story time with the librarian. After which, I’d pick out the books I wanted to borrow for the week. Some of my favorite books included, the Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak, and both the Pippi Longstocking and The Children of Noisy Village series, by Astrid Lindgren. Ah, bliss.
In sixth grade, I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, and I remember curling up in a comfy chair, reading nonstop until I finished the book. So engrossed was I in this beautiful novel, I imagined myself to be Francie Nolan, the protagonist, and cried profusely when she lost someone very dear to her.
In seventh grade English, I was assigned to read A Lantern in Her Hand, by Bess Streeter Aldrich. I absolutely loved this story about a young woman who marries and heads west during the days of pioneer life. She had so many dreams, one by one they whittled away, because being a pioneer wife and mother got in the way. She had many children and eventually, each of them grew up and ended up fulfilling their mother’s dreams, in their own way. I remember loving this book so much, I read it aloud to my mother, who didn’t have time for books at all. Those were special moments.
In ninth grade, I made a friend who changed my life, when she introduced me to an array of classic works. Like the Bronte sisters’ Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, Albert Camus’ The Stranger, Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, along with books by Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker, O. Henry and the like. This opened new worlds for me and I’ll be forever grateful to my friend.
When I was 15, I spent nearly a year attending school in Caracas, Venezuela. I craved books written in English. The private school I was attending had a small shelf in the library devoted to such books. One of them was Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. I had never read this book before and became completely immersed in the story.
Around this time, I saw a book review in an issue of Time magazine that caught my eye. I wrote to my oldest brother, Michael, who was back in the states, and asked him to send me a copy of the book. Well, he sent it along with another book, that I hadn’t requested. He included a note.
“If you’re determined to read the book you ordered, then please, also read this one. It’s better for you.”
The book I asked for was Love Story, a real tearjerker by Erich Segal. Tucked underneath was The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I loved them both, as I did other books my brother sent me, such as The Godfather by Mario Puzo and Catch-22, by Joseph Heller.
In college, I was deep into mysteries: Mary Higgins Clark, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross McDonald, and so on.
When I first married, I realized I had never read The Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. There were nine in the series and, in a few weeks, I devoured them all. Such wonderful, adventurous stories!
When I think back on how so many good books have touched my life, this much I know: That it is for these glorious and meaningful memories that I do it now.
So, tell me, what are your favorite memories about reading?