My love affair with books began at a very young age. My parents were avid readers and passed their love of the written word down to me effortlessly.
Parents of my friends tell me I was a curious and imaginative little girl, always interested in stories they told of their childhood, or their travels and adventures.
One of my first memories is of thumbing through the oversized Last Whole Earth Catalog on the coffee table. It was black, and, like any almanac, chock full of black and white photos, sketches and articles of and about products for a self-sustained life. It always struck me as a “hippie” book, and it fascinated me.
The other thing that fascinated me was our bookshelves. They were filled with books on nature, anthropology, early childhood education and history. When I was little, the handcrafted bookshelves met in a corner where we stored folded lap blankets and pillows. It was the perfect reader’s nook. It was there that I would scan titles, pull books from the shelf, read a few pages, put it back, pull out another one and so on. It never got old.
It hasn’t yet.
I did a book report on E.L. Doctorow’s Welcome to Hard Times in 4th grade. Thankfully I had a pretty hip teacher who didn’t freak out that I was reading that kind of book at that age. (As an aside, I did get called into the principal’s office in 6th grade for reading – and then sharing – Judy Blume’s Forever. I clearly remember my mom coming in to meet with the principal and vociferously standing up for me by asking the principal if he had actually read the book and if not he had no right to censor it – or me. #gomom!)
One of my favorite trips was to the bookstore – either to Bookshop Santa Cruz when it was part of the brick courtyard next to Caffe Pergolisi – or the local shop called Bookworks. My father and mother were divorced (though we lived next door to each other – a story for another time) but each one enjoyed bookshops as much as I did.
To this day one of my favorite ways to spend time with my father is to go to a bookshop and wander the stacks, then get coffee and talk about books we have recently read.
The books I enjoyed the most during my childhood were the Nancy Drew series (devoured! still love mysteries!), James Herriot’s series that began with All Creatures Great and Small, and the Margeurite Henry series of horse books that included Misty of Chincoteague, Another of my favorites was Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion and – what was for many years my all-time favorite – Man O’ War.
I learned about the politics of women’s health and sexuality by reading Our Bodies, Our Selves, by the Boston Women’s Health Collective. One of the most striking images in that book was of a woman who had died due to a botched illegal abortion. I can still picture that photo in perfect clarity. It definitely shaped my position on abortion rights.
I read books of poetry and was enamored with Walt Whitman and how E.E. Cummings placed words on the page.
I read parts of Fear of Flying, the dictionary (I had visions of reading the entire thing in an effort to increase my vocabulary). I learned about Native American history when I read Ishi, and about pioneer women and alternative childhood education by reading my mom’s copy of Summerhill.
It’s an interesting experience, taking the time to think back to the first books I picked up. How I still remember them so clearly. Poetry, women’s rights, nature…all things I am interested in to this day.
It is no wonder, then, that my life circles around reading and writing – they are my core, the essence of me.
I often look at people out in the world and want to know their story – how they became who they are. What choices they made, what they would do differently, what – if anything – holds them back. Pushes them forward. Makes them stop and contemplate the meaning of life.
May I continue on this path of curiosity and inquisitiveness. May I own my own story of a love of words and books and pen and paper. May I continue to be brave enough to follow my heart and work to write all the stories I have lived, imagined, and dreamt of.