The Call of Books

I love books. I love the weight of them in your hands. The way they balance so nicely, with little effort, falling only if you let it happen. And I don’t. I worship books for they take me into worlds where I will never go, into situations that I’ll never experience, into characters’ minds that, with luck, I’ll fall in love with.

I love the way a new book smells. Crisp and fresh as a spring breeze just after a storm. The pages turn with effort and often times stick together, making me work for every word. The binding, not yet creased, so that it almost squeaks when opened for the first time. The difficulty reading the syllables inside the crease…making me appreciate even more the effort the author put into the work.

I love owning books. I cannot go down the aisles of Target without stopping in the book section. I gently pick up a book, examine the cover image, imagine the story, turn it over and read the back. I open to the first page and read a paragraph. I can tell by that little encounter whether or not I’ll like the book. Whether it will speak to me, enticing me to delve in as if for a swim. I always buy at least one book, then take it home and add it to my pile.

We do not have a bookstore here, where I live, so when I am able to go into one, my eyes light up and adrenaline flows. It’s the same rush someone gets before climbing El Capitan in Yosemite or skydiving out of a plane. My eyes dart here and there, latching onto titles that are intriguing and covers that beckon. It doesn’t take me long to pick up a book and cradle it to my chest. To carry it with me through the store like a mother carrying her brand new baby.

I go from one section to the next, skipping some, stopping at others, always searching for the prize. I know that I could walk out with ten books, twenty books, maybe even fifty if I didn’t exercise self-control.

My love of books did not begin as a child, for we had no books at home and did not go to the library. My parents did not read to me and there were no relatives living nearby who took on that role. When I began school, I was introduced to reading. It did not come easily to me. Vowels made no sense and consonants jumbled together in so many different combinations that I could not formulate them into words. My teachers must have grown tired of saying the same things over and over to me, of sounding out the same words time after time.

It was not until fourth grade that it suddenly made sense. Thankfully I had a kind teacher who let me borrow books and bring them home to read over and over again. I don’t recall how many books I borrowed, but it must have been quite a few, for by the end of that year I was an excited and fluent reader. And then we moved into the country.

In order to get to school, my mother learned to drive. This turned out to be a blessing, for she sometimes took us into town to the library, where we could research topics for school as well as check out books. I began with nonfiction, reading everything I could about Native American people. From there I branched into stories about horses, reading entire collections by select authors. Back to nonfiction and biographies, where I learned about men and women who overcame odds to accomplish wonderful things.

One summer a most wonderful thing happened that forever changed my life. A bookmobile came into our neighborhood and parked a few houses down the street. At first I was only allowed to check out four books, which I easily read in the week. Soon the librarian allowed me five, and then six books as I always returned them in the same condition they had been when I checked them out.

I was hooked. Each book carried me away from my home life and into magical worlds. Worlds of real people doing marvelous things as well as fairies and monsters who battled for the salvation of humanity. I read with the abandon of an escape artist, giving my whole self to the story, enchanted until the very end. And then immediately picking up the next book and beginning a new adventure.

I don’t know what I would have done in life if it weren’t for the gift of reading that my teachers gave me. My mom had an eighth grade education and while my dad graduated from high school, he never went beyond that level. In my family, girls married at fourteen, dropping out of school to tend babies and home. And that was their life. Which would also have been mine, but through reading I discovered possibilities and opportunities that went far beyond marriage, motherhood and home.

Because of books my life is richer than it would be without them. I always have something waiting in the wings to enchant me. Something to carry me away. Something in which to immerse myself from the first page to the last.

I cannot imagine a world without books.

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