Or “love of books,” for those unfamiliar with the Ancient Greek (or French, if you’re picky).
This post is a little out of character for me. I don’t normally talk about mushy love stuff, but something has been lurking beneath the surface of my usual evil.
That something is how much books mean to me.
For those who don’t have time or aren’t in the mood for a long post, you might want to come back later. Everyone else, get a cup of tea (or coffee if you simply must indulge in that inferior beverage) and pull up a chair.
Gather round, children. Auntie Dina is going to tell you a story! Yay! Story Time! (Remember Story Time? Did you have/attend Story Time anywhere? Tell me about it in the comments!)
Here. Let’s start off with a little taste of what books were like for me as a kid.
I don’t remember learning to read. Oh, I remember reading. I remember the Dick and Jane books, Curious George, and various other beginning reader books, but I don’t remember learning to read. Being taught to read, rather.
My mother tells me I was reading when I was three, and knew my alphabet at eighteen months. (Hint: This is early on both counts, as most children don’t learn the alphabet until they’re 24-36 months or learn to read until age 6. I’m not disclosing my early reading abilities to boast, but using personal experience to make my point. I also graduated high school at age sixteen. I think it’s well-established I’m not normal. You all knew that though, right?) Some of my earliest memories are of books and libraries. Of my mother reading. My Daddy sitting in his big leather 1970s rocker reading.
Books were everywhere growing up, and I didn’t understand, at all, how my brother could hate books. Hate to read. How could ANYONE hate to read? Growing up, I didn’t want Barbies or stuffed animals for presents when various celebrations merited them. I wanted books. Nothing made me happier than a new book. My Daddy built me an awesome playhouse out in the backyard. I took my books out there to read in it. Go outside and play? Sure. Let me get my book. There were times growing up when our family didn’t have money to spend on anything but the absolute necessities, but Momma always found a dime or quarter lurking in the corner of her purse for me when I came to her with a book I found at a yard sale or used bookstore.
There were always books in my life. Always. And I never hated them. Not even the boring ones I had to read for school. (There have only been a few books in my life I have despised, and their names shall not be uttered here. I’m sure most of you can name at least four of them if you know me at all. Back to the story.)
Most people try to avoid enabling addiction, unless that addiction is to good things, like books. Mom’s coworkers brought her BOXES of books. BOXES. We were not exclusionary in my house. All books, fiction and not, were equally welcomed. Oh, Daddy had his favorite authors (Louis L’Amour, Stephen King, Tom Clancy) and Mom had hers (Danielle Steele, Patricia Cornwell, Nora Roberts), but just because a book didn’t have one of those names on the cover didn’t mean it didn’t get read. I had my favorites, of course, but I was young, so they varied from week to week. I actually didn’t care so much about authors as I did about series. Nancy Drew? Sign me up! Hardy Boys? No, thanks. I want to hear about the GIRL detective. Sweet Valley High? OH GOD NO. Babysitters Club for me. Sweet Valley High was a BSC wannabe, in my opinion. And so on and so forth.
As I grew up, my books changed. At 10 I was wandering out of “the kids’ section” the librarians always ushered me to and into the Big Part of the library. “Fiction.” I knew what that meant. Momma and Daddy read “fiction.” So, I started with what I knew. Names my parents read. I started with those, and went from there.
And I didn’t stop.
Every city we went to (my family was military), I always sought out the library first. “WHERE ARE THE BOOKS?” was the question I always wanted the answer to first. Who cared about “How close is the grocery store?” or “Is this school decent?” “WHERE ARE THE BOOKS?” Good schools. Who cared about “good schools?” My parents did, obviously, but I never paid attention. Who cared about the teachers or curriculum? Classes were the same everywhere! To me, a good school had a library. A big one. With books that I hadn’t read a hundred times already (but it was okay if that’s all they had, because I love to reread things). The best school I ever went to had…you guessed it…a HUGE library. Right in the middle of the building. It was like the school was built around the library. Entrances to the library were in every hallway. I loved the library at my senior year school so much that I volunteered to help them with year-end inventory, then applied for a work-study the following year.
After the school library came the city library. Where was it? Did they have one? How often could we go (translation: how often were my parents willing to drive me?)? How many books do they let you check out? Do they use cards or barcodes? (Hey, it was the 80s and 90s – computerization was still “a thing.”) Was I old enough to have a card myself or did a parent have to check books out for me? How long did they let you keep them?
These were the important things to me.
Sure, I got called names for always having my nose in a book. But I also tutored half the jocks in English so they could pass and still be on the team, so I earned a strange sort of immunity from most forms of nerd-ridicule and a few cool points. (Not that many, though – just enough to not get anyone who was seen talking to me thrown into the Nerd Clique. You know the one.)
Here again, I was confused. Why was reading mock-worthy? How could reading comprehension be so hard for these people? (And some of those jocks really, really struggled with what, to me, was ridiculously easy. How hard is it to read something and understand what it said?) Let’s not even get into writing! I loved writing! Writing was awesome! Three page paper? Sure thing! Why were people groaning? Stressing?
Why was I the weird one? Everyone I knew read! How could people pick “sleep” as their favorite leisure activity when there were BOOKS to be read? (You can probably glean from all this that my school years weren’t the easiest or my most favorite.)
I asked my Daddy these questions. (Side note about my Daddy – he was my best friend in the world. He died in 2001 and I still miss him loads. He and I could (and did) talk about everything and anything, and we talked a lot about stuff like this. Philosophical and intellectual conversations, we had them. Often. I didn’t know this wasn’t a standard thing parents did with their kids. But I digress.)
It wasn’t until we got to discussing these things that I learned the truth about my Daddy.
But…he read all the time! Went to the library with me! Read magazines and newspapers and novels! Read my homework! He could read! I know, I saw him! We read together! I read books he gave me that he liked! Sure, I read a little faster than he did, but that was because I was younger. Wasn’t it?
It was then I learned about dyslexia and learning disabilities.
I knew there were people who didn’t know HOW to read. Easy enough to fix – they just needed someone to teach them.
I had no idea that there were people who weren’t able to read. Even blind people could read in Braille! The very concept that someone might not be able to read was so foreign to me. I literally cried when Daddy told me that he had taught himself to read using comic books when he was a teenager because his teachers gave up on trying to teach him to read because they thought he was beyond help, and the comics were easier for him because they had pictures to show was was going on in addition to big print letters he could see. How his school file was marked with a big red stamp reading “MR” for “mentally retarded.” (It was the 1950s…that’s how they rolled back then.) How his teachers didn’t believe him when he told them the words moved around when he tried to read. How they thought he was being a smart-ass when he asked if they were supposed to do that.
I sobbed. My Daddy was the smartest person I knew! How could anyone ever have thought him mentally challenged in any way? What? If you couldn’t read, that meant you were *insert lack-of-intelligence-slur here*? Not MY Daddy! People made fun of me BECAUSE I could read and wanted to, not because I couldn’t! What the hell?
Then little things started coming to me. Little signs I’d dismissed because hey…he was my Daddy! Things like how he always wrote very slowly and neatly – neater than me! -, in print, always in block/capital letters (except for the letter “i” – that one always tripped him up). How he had me look things over to see he’d spelled everything correctly when it was a paper that had to leave the house. How he’d ask me to spell words for him that were easy to spell. How he used his finger or a piece of paper under the line of text he was reading. How he always had to have quiet when he read – dead silence. No TV or radio or anything else. (Not that I minded – that’s like a library, so I was okay with silent reading. Silent Reading was always my favorite part of class.)
Of course, the moment I had a word I wasn’t sure about, I looked it up. TO THE LIBRARY! (Shut up. Yes, I was Hermione Granger, okay?) What is “dyslexia” and what can I do about it? How can I fix my Daddy? How can I help him READ? (This was before the Internet, remember. There was no Google. Hell, there wasn’t even dial-up back then! I had a card catalog and a Dewey Decimal System! PH33R ME!) So I found books. There weren’t a great many, and some of them were pretty old (“old” to me being before I was born), but they gave me a place to start and off I went. I learned what I could about learning disabilities and literacy and so on and so forth. I learned what Daddy went through in order to be able to read. He quite literally suffered for his pleasure. Every word was a chore for him, but he so loved reading. Learning was a chore as well because most of our learning in this country is text-based, so college was hard for him. (Yes, he went, and earned his degree in Criminal Justice.)
Like me, Daddy wasn’t all that keen on being read to. No. No audio books for us. It’s not the same as reading it yourself. (Besides, as I later learned, auditory processing was harder for him. He “saw” the story better if he read it for himself.) I learned more, later, what books really meant to him. For me, they were a pleasant addiction. I loved the worlds I could visit. For him, it was different. For him, it was a sensory experience. He wasn’t just reading – he was there. In the story.
The authors he loved were ones who built real worlds. Who offered a real glimpse as to what it was like to be in those places. Louis L’Amour? Big western writer. Sure, the stories might be about cowboys, but he wrote about the world they were in, and it was like watching a movie for my Daddy, every time he read. But it was more than that. Every time Daddy read a novel, he was *in* the movie. Not as the main character, but instead of sitting and watching the movie from a chair like we do in the theater, he was actually *there.*
You’ve seen people immersed in their books. You’ve probably been that yourself. For Daddy, it was more than immersion. It was like opening a door to another universe and stepping through it. I remember, when he’d stop reading, he’d have this look on his face, and now I know it for what it was. He was reorienting himself to the world around him. He wasn’t in a submarine with spies or in a burning building with firefighters. He was in his chair, in his living room. It always took him a second or two. And he never just got up from his reading. He always sat back in his chair for a few seconds, and now I know why.
Now I know why he never read as long as I did. It was hard for him, and he could only work at something for so long before he needed a break. Oh, he always said something like, “I need to _____” when I was younger, so I thought nothing of his frequent breaks. Later on, I knew better.
Back then, I decided that it would be my mission in life to help EVERYONE read. I wanted to go into education, specializing in learning disabilities. (Hint: This didn’t happen. But you knew that.) Eventually things grew and changed and life happened and so on and so forth, but one thing never, ever changed.
There were still books. Always books. Everywhere. Always libraries and bookstores and book clubs and so on. Book clubs! People who loved books! It wasn’t just me! It wasn’t until I was an adult that I met people who loved books as much as I did. I was now old enough to pay for books that came IN THE MAIL. Books! Mailed right to me! HEAVEN! Other people did that with music, but me? Books. GIMME.
In times of turmoil in my life, no matter my age, I went to the library. Something about wandering through the large shelves in the quiet helped me work through whatever was going on. The library has always been my safe haven. Bookstores also to a degree, but the library has always been special to me.
Nowadays we have all sorts of formats for books and so on, but for me, nothing compares to a physical book. Here. The Doctor says it better than I can:
That. That, right there. That’s what books mean to me. I married a man who loves books. My entire house has books piled in every room. I have a library of my own downstairs (that’s in complete chaos, but still – I HAVE A LIBRARY!).
It wasn’t until a writing assignment in high school came back with “I’ll pick up your book someday!” written on it that I thought I could BE one of the people writing books for OTHER people to read. Me? Write stories? I’m not…I don’t…I *read* books! I don’t WRITE them….
Apparently, I do.
Now if you’ll excuse me, my neighbors are having a yard sale, and they have a whole table of books for sale. You know what that means.