Books – I’ve intimately known mountains of them. A small portion of them are still in my possession, worn and highlighted, a page earmarked. Many were sold during a time in my life where money was scarce and I needed groceries more than tomes sitting on my book shelves. Still others sit in the dusty digital annex of my iPad.
Allow me to explain my life-long love affair with books.
I was the kind of girl who’d get in trouble for reading books at the dinner table by hiding them under the table while eating. A simple look of admonishment from my mom or dad would make me sigh. I’d flip the book closed, roll my eyes, and keep eating my pot roast – all the while wondering, what happens next?
As a child, books got me outside of my small world where I wasn’t in charge yet. They meant adventure, possibility, solving mysteries and making things happen. If you couldn’t find me when I was 10, you only had to walk to the side of our house, shield your eyes from the sun and look way up into the oak tree. There you’d find me on a limb, most likely reading a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys mystery. I wouldn’t climb down until the mystery had been solved, and not until I’d sat there for a while, gazing at the book with a fat sense of satisfaction. Later, I’d dabble in more torrid books, like the Sweet Valley High series. But I always came back to my trusty mysteries. I solved problems and moved worlds in those books. It was the grand theme of my childhood, trying to decipher what I was going to be when I grew up. My big mystery.
As a teen, I took myself very seriously and moved on to the classics, particularly Russian literature. I thought it made me look very smart and complex. You would find me on a park bench, looking quite aloof, reading Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. My love of Russian literature later led me to take two years of the Russian language in college, an exploration of Russian history, and a brief foray into Russian Orthodoxy, before deeming it much too sexist. But I was proud of my explorations of something so foreign. I could embrace the unfamiliar and be comfortable in it.
Around the same time, I was introduced to Anais Nin, an American author famous for her voluminous published diaries. Having kept a diary myself from the age of 14, I was inspired, and fancied myself as talented – if not as bold – as Anais. From that point forward, I chose diaries as carefully as one might choose a new house – looking carefully at the outside design, while examining the blank pages, just waiting to be filled with my words. I have boxes of journals now, which I’m not sure I would ever be self-possessed enough to try to publish. Anais could get away with it – she was surrounded by artists and celebrities. But, the idea was formulated that I could become a published author one day, and it didn’t have to be fiction.
Immediately after college, I became obsessed with ecology and the environment. A simple book called The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight caused me to pursue, apply, and be accepted into a Ph.D program in spiritual ecology. That book also played a part in me becoming vegan over a decade ago. It gave me one of the most profound statistics I have ever come across, which is that 99% of the species that have ever existed on earth no longer exist. That book shifted my mindset from trying to save the earth, to realizing that in the end, the earth will take care of itself. My life has been chiseled and refined from this book.
With my children getting older, I became a bit more thoughtful about the world I was bringing them up in. I moved on to more contemporary literature. Books by authors like Jodi Picoult, who tackled modern-day issues like shootings, suicide, and medical emancipation in books like My Sister’s Keeper, The Pact, or 19 minutes. I spent hours flying through these books, closing the last page and wondering about our world.
These days, my attention span can’t handle Russian lit or heavy ecology books. I’ve taken a mid-life break and most of my repertoire are cookbooks by my nightstand. I read them the way I would any fine book of literature. I touch the cover, flip through lovingly, and browse the pages to see what culinary adventure I want to go on. I intersperse my cookbook reading with books the New York Times tells me are worth reading. What am I currently reading? The Book Thief.
As my family grows, and time becomes more precious, I choose less television, less Facebook, less trash-magazine reading, (my guilty secret) and I choose books instead. What books will travel with me over the next 5 years? What happens next? I can’t wait to find out.
Note: This post was in response to this week’s writing prompt “The last hand-written letter I wrote” No, this post has nothing to do with a hand-written letter, but it does have to do with my obsession with words and stories, so I figured I’d get a hall pass 🙂 Please check out my blogger friends’ answers to the prompt by clicking here.