A Reading Life: Thank You

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).

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About Aine Greaney

I'm an Irish writer living in greater Boston. I've published four books--two novels, a small collection of short stories and a how-to writing book, "Writer with a Day Job" (Writers Digest Books). I've also published lots of short stories, essays and feature articles. My latest project, "What Brought You Here" is a non-fiction narrative about being an expatriate in America. Find me on Twitter @ainegreaney. Or at my author web page, www.ainegreaney.com. As well as creative writing, I am the communications director for a healthcare non-profit. I also lead creative writing workshops at various libraries, schools and arts programs. At my workshops, I've been inspired by lots of wonderful writers--most of whom work a day job!
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9 Responses to A Reading Life: Thank You

  1. Very well said. Books are among the best gifts I’ve ever received.

    • Aine Greaney says:

      Thank you, Doug. Of course, in thinking about what something means to us, we can’t help also thinking about the ‘what-ifs,’ as in, what if we hadn’t become readers? Would we be playing video games, watching T.V., or …? (not that there’s anything wrong with that : – ). Thanks for visiting.

  2. Karin says:

    Aine~ This piece touched me and brought me back to my reading beginnings.

    It is not so much the books that were gifts to me as a child, as there were few but it was my half a century older Galway mother who I have to thank. She read to me every night after very long work shifts. The books were usually bought for a dime and they were treats that came from the dime store, second hand shops and saints books that were bought at the back of the church. Sometimes, she read from the newspaper as we lay in bed. I think she would forget herself that she was reading to a child and begin to read about a recent murder. She was made aware when I asked questions like, “what does nude mean?” but she always read to me. I don’t know where she got her love of reading as she had a 3rd grade education and didn’t have time to read to my seven older siblings but I have always thanked her in my heart as my love of reading grew. I was 5 when I began to walk an 8th of a mile to the public library on my own on most Saturdays – children were allowed to cross streets and walk alone in my childhood (this was Cambridge, MA). I was 8 when I lay up in bed one stormy cold Irish summer as the windows rattled and read “Puddin’ Head Wilson” and “Around the World in 80 Days”. My life is filled with books and to this day, I never go to sleep without reading (no matter how many times the book falls from my hands) nor do I start my day without reading, even if the clock tells me I don’t have enough time.

    • Aine Greaney says:

      Karin,
      thanks for visiting and for your lovely reminiscences about your grandmother. What a great set of memories to have. Yes, it’s extraordinary how, even in the face of little time and barely any education, some of the people in our lives managed to pass on that gift of story and reading. One always has to wonder what inspired them to do so and, as I mention in my blog, if they had any idea how valuable and life changing it would all turn out to be.

  3. M.D. Taverner says:

    Exactly.

  4. Jen Adams says:

    Aine- So beautifully said. This is why I started the blog, really- to begin to appreciate the ways our lives have been changed by those who’ve shared books with us. Thank you for sharing this!

  5. Such a lovely post, Aine! As a lifelong reader, I can relate. I don’t know what the first book I was given was, since I had two older sisters and two avid reader parents and the house was always full of books. I still have several very special books that my mother took us to watch the author (or perhaps the illustrator) sign. They were both dedicated to “Edie” with a special and beautiful watercolor drawing to accompany the dedication. I can’t wait to have grandchildren to read them to.

  6. Aine Greaney says:

    Thanks, Edith. What a treasure those book gifts are. Grandchildren? Quoi? You’re not old enough, girl …

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