The only thing I’ve ever really loved is books.
I was read to constantly as a child by patient parents who would’ve read “Lyle, Lyle Crocodile” ten thousand times in a row had their doted-upon first child requested it. I remember exactly the moment I realized that I could read – I could sound out every word in my Aladdin book, and just like that, all the doors in the world were open to me! It was the most magical thing I could imagine. I could read!
There were always books in our home. It wasn’t that we were a literary family; my mother prefers Nora Roberts to Alice Munro, and my father steadfastly refuses to read fiction. They read to us and they read for their own pleasure; at night, everyone in our small house was reading before bed. I had toys and costumes and dolls, of course, but what I was really delighted by was books. I could amuse myself for hours just by reading, and Christmas was especially exciting because I knew I’d get a whole stack of new books.
I used our small-town library as my resource for years. Reading was how I escaped my small town life, how I shaped the world around me, how I learned that there was so much more out there. My teachers would be amused and stunned to see my tiny self blowing through “The Diary of Anne Frank” while my classmates were struggling with basic chapter books. I spent many recess hours hanging out with a book while my friends played soccer. The obsession continued throughout my years in school; my math teacher asked what I was reading during my junior year and when I revealed it was “Lolita,” his face changed.
I was insanely bored in high school, and instead of getting into trouble I got into books. They took me away from the place I felt was stifling me. I read Sylvia Plath. I read V.C. Andrews. I read in the pool, in the bath, in the car, at the table. I read everything. My girlfriends and I passed around our favorite paperbacks and wrote notes in the margins and underlined meaningful passages. Those are the treasures of my adolescence. And in college, I met friends who were just as obsessed with books as I was. I always felt a surge of delight when I’d walk into someone’s room and see a bursting bookshelf just like mine.
Every year, my mom asks if I’d like a Kindle. Every year, I say no. There’s something about a real book that is so delicious and so concrete; it will never lose battery life or get deleted. It will take up space on a shelf or gather dust on the floor forever.
John and I would spend hours in thrift stores and return home loaded, our arms piled with bags of books. The two of us would hand the other favorite novels or books of poems. We’d scour shelves for copies of our most beloved books to give as gifts. Both of us had books stacked all over our respective apartments. I still go to Savers intending to find a Halloween dress or something for my house and instead head to the register with yet another pile to read. At my parents’ house, the shelves in the basement are sagging with the weight of my growing library. I keep promising them that soon I’ll have a real home and I’ll take them all back. I’m not the kind of person to read and return. There’s nothing as calming as re-reading an old favorite or reaching for your latest love when you’re sick or sad and need a little comfort.
I rarely buy new books, preferring to hunt them down in thrift stores or buy ex-library copies on Amazon for a penny or two. I like my books to be thumbed through by someone else. Books are my boon companion. I’ll spend Saturday afternoons soaking in the bath for hours, losing time buried in a book til my toes turn to prunes. I fall asleep with them beside me in bed. They’re in my car, stacked near my bed, tagging along with me in my purse.
Some books are too pretty to read in the bath, though. When we were 21, I bought John a copy of Charles Simic’s “Dimestore Alchemy.” It was the perfect book, and I’ve since sent it to ex-boyfriends and far-away best friends. But I could never find my own copy, and I refused to purchase it from Amazon in a moment of weakness. I knew it was out there, somewhere, just waiting for me to find it and take it home to join its many, many new siblings.
Guess what found me for my birthday? John stumbled upon a copy. It’s not the most beautiful copy, he wrote inside it, but it found me. And now I’m giving it to you.
I beg to differ, though – it’s the most beautiful book I’ve ever seen. It’s full of love and it’s full of magic. Can your Kindle do that?