I love books. They comfort me. I read them, and afterwards they are my life-long friends. They take me places I have never been, introduce me to people I have never met, and inspire me with ideas I have never thought of. I know all of this has been said before in much more eloquent language, but always, regardless of the book or the genre, I learn and grow and think and my mind and imagination are stimulated.
I decorate with them because a room filled with overflowing bookcases creates a comfortable, inviting environment more effectively than anything else I can think of. Especially if there are a few strategically placed plants in the room.
And while new books, with their crackly spines and pristine pages, have an intoxicating smell all their own, an old book, with its faded cover and ear-marked pages is like a favorite friend around whom you are completely comfortable.
I was raised around books. Some of my earliest memories are of my mother sitting on one end of the blue hide-a-bed in the den, taking small sips from a tiny 6 oz. bottle of Coke in one hand and long drags from an L&M cigarette with her other. This was before a massive stroke stole her taste for Cokes and made reading laborious instead of relaxing.
A few years before I was born, my grandparents custom built a home in the tony Nichols Hills area of Oklahoma City. The long hall leading to the master bedroom had built-in, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves running the entire length on both sides. The shelves were deeper than normal and held two rows of books, one behind the other.
The back wall of the family room which was split by a doorway leading into the kitchen, had another set of floor-to-ceiling shelves and added to the hallway collection, they held thousands of books. My grandfather had read them all. This didn’t include all the books in his law office. I never understood how he had time to ply his trade. How he could do anything but read all day, every day, in order to have read all those books. He must have been one of Evelyn Woods’ first students.
I learned to love to read the summer I turned 14 and stayed a few weeks with them in their tiny cabin in Como, Colorado. It was filled with all the books that would otherwise have been homeless since I couldn’t imagine where there would have been room for them in the primary residence.
One day, bored out of my mind, and gazing at all the volumes stacked above me, I asked my grandfather to pick out a book he thought I might like. Without a moments hesitation he walked over to the shelf left of the window and pulled down “Harpo Speaks” by Harpo Marx. I had no idea who Harpo Marx was, but it was obvious he was long-winded. The book was massive. Up to this point, I had never read much more than the color-coded, timed, reading comprehension cards that I devoured in parochial school and a few easy to read mysteries. This was supposed to be a vacation.
I asked him for something else. Something shorter, maybe. He walked off in a huff. Since he was usually the most agreeable sort and I was already deeply entrenched in people pleasing, I needed to make up for my offense. I heaved a deep sigh, sat on the sofa, and opened the book. I had no idea how long it would take me to get to the last page, but there wasn’t much else for a 14 year-old girl in Como, Colorado, (population: 25) to do. So I read.
And an interesting thing happened that would repeat itself a thousand times over. I couldn’t put it down! I was riveted to every page! I read it at the dinner table. I read it until my eyes were tired and dry. I read it in the car when we went somewhere. I read it until I was too tired to keep reading and then I couldn’t wait to wake up and start reading it again. It was magical. I learned who the Marx brothers were. How they came to America. The dream of Vaudeville stardom that danced in their mother’s head. I learned about Vaudeville, about New York City in the 1900’s, about immigration, segregation, prejudice, poverty, dreams, show business, the early days of Hollywood and the names that were made famous there. More than once I would read a passage and laugh out loud. Oh my gosh, how I laughed! There were times I would laugh so hard I’d close the book with my finger between the pages so I wouldn’t lose my place and I would howl until my eyes spilled tears!
From then on, I was hooked.
When I moved to Wilmington, Delaware, where I lived with my aunt and uncle for three years, books again played a huge role in the family dynamics and discussions. I remember my Uncle Ned and cousin Bob reciting dialogue from “Catch-22” and laughing together with the same gusto with which I had laughed by myself in Colorado and I learned that a good book could be a shared experience.
Not surprisingly, my house is filled with books. I have read most of them and make inner vows to not buy any more until I have read all the ones that are waiting to be read, but it is a vow I can’t keep. They are my guilty pleasure.
It occurs to me that it should be no real surprise that I also write books. Books are my heritage and they will be my legacy.