Last week, I contributed to this wonderful blog, The Books They Gave Me, in which readers get to “reflect on the books given to us by loved ones.”
For my contribution, I decided to write about my first ever gift of a children’s book by the hugely popular British author, Enid Blyton. In 1970, a beloved aunt gave me the 1966 edition of “The Hollow Tree House.” I’m sure my aunt didn’t know it then, but her gift of a paperback children’s novel started a lifelong love of reading–and writing.
In terms of time input and multiple drafts, the “Books They Gave Me” post was an absolute beast. This mini essay took several rounds of scribbled bedside notes and balled-up yuck drafts. In the end, I found myself keeping it short, sweet and to the point.
Why was this piece more difficult to write than, say, a 3,000-word personal essay or a 1,500-word feature?
In effect, I was penning a long overdue thank-you note not just for a gift, but for a life.
Over 42 years ago, I finished that children’s novel and looked around for another. I craved trips to the town library. In between our trips to town, I re-read the books I had previously read.
After that first book, there was no turning away, no defection from this new and thrilling world, this universe of words and people and places and sensibilities that were a million miles away from my childhood home and our small farm in south Mayo in the west of Ireland.
I read my way through a rural, dreamy childhood. I read my way through the turbulent teens. I’ve read on planes and trains. I’ve read in bed. I’ve read my way up to and through a hospital surgical procedure. I read in the bathroom–even the stinky public ones. I’ve read through broken romances and … more broken romances (Men? Who needed ’em anyway?). I read after my cat died. I read in the waiting rooms of the Irish hospitals where my late parents spent their final days.
Reading calms me. Reading thrills me. Reading is how I understand the world around me and the places I’ve been and never will be. Reading is how I seek to understand myself. Reading tells me what to believe, what to say. Reading begets my public arguments and my private joys.
Across two continents, multiple jobs, two college degrees, 17 house moves, 5 cats and many, many different dress sizes, books have been the constant–the constant happy.
How could we ever adequately thank someone for such a gift?
What are your early reading memories? Feel free to share in the comments (below).