Books – Day 3

II’m blogging every day of November, with each day being a post about a thing for which I am grateful. – HH

On the third day, I am grateful for my love of books.

I grew up on 33 acres, 10 miles away from a town with 800 people in it. My best friend lived a mile and a half away. It could have been a lonely life. But I never felt that, because I had my books.

I can never remember not being surrounded by books. Our home had piles of them everywhere, and both of my parents read before bed every night, and they both read to me every night, and eventually I read to them every night, and even now, I cannot go to sleep without reading first.

My parents were just babies themselves when I came along, but I was mostly raised by people in their 50’s and 60’s, the elders in our community that stepped in for my dead and absent grandparents. And those people loved to read, and they ooohed and awed over my reading. I remember being five or so and at a neighbor’s when they had company over, and handed a newspaper and getting a rousing ovation for being able to read it.

They also didn’t cater to me. When I was 8 or so and would stay over at my great aunt’s, I would read her paperback mystery novels, largely because there were no “children’s” books to be had. I was taught to use the dictionary for words I did not understand, and I learned to love both dictionaries and pulpy mystery novels.

To this day I can get lost in either – there is nothing more comfortable to me than seeing Hercule Poirot assemble everyone in the drawing room for a satisfying denouement, or getting sidetracked in my search for a word by finding other words I did not know existed.

My immediate neighbors, an elderly retired farm couple, did not read books, but they read the paper each day as if it were Holy Writ, and taught me to do the same. It was a never-ending story, current events were, with chapters spread out that you had to piece together yourself.

In the small town we lived near, the town hall, the fire department, and the library were all in the same building. The library was really just a small room, perhaps 20×15, with shelves around the perimeter and a row of shelves down the middle. Ms. Lea was the librarian, and she was a retired English teacher. They only were open a few days a week – perhaps Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and only a few hours each of those days.

I read books at a prodigious rate and would, in the summer time, check out a stack of books on Saturday, bring them back on Thursday, and get one or two then to tide me over until Saturday again.

They had a summer reading program every summer, and after my winning each summer for 3 summers in a row, I was given the equivalent of a lifetime award and was not eligible for further participation, “to let the other kids have a chance.”

I didn’t care, as long as they let me read the books. I would rather read than compete: Still would, in fact.

In my early 30’s I would, for a few years, own a bookshop, which is somewhat akin to being an alcoholic and owning a bar. I had just gone through a horrible divorce, and I would sit in my quiet shop, early in the morning, before the shop would open.

The sun would come in the windows, and dust would catch on the rays of the sunlight against the backdrop of the thousands of books on their shelves and I would feel like I was surrounded by friends, and I knew – just knew – that nothing very bad could happen to me.

I still read at a prodigious rate. For instance, a quick search of my records tells me I have borrowed 121 library books since January, and bought another 43 (almost all used), plus others I have gotten as gifts, and I have reread more than a few.

My office is at the front of our house, and I can look out my window at the world going by, but inside here, I am surrounded by bookshelves on every wall. And every time I enter it, it is like being surrounded by friends, and I know – just know – that nothing very bad can happen to me there.

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