Thursday, July 17, 2008

65 years of Reading

Monday night I spoke to a large group of women at Otter as part of a gathering on hobbies. I tried to tell them my reading history and how much the hobby of reading has meant in my life. Readers of
this blog already know some of this. It was, however, interesting to trace back to early days in my life to consider how I came to have such passion for books.

There were no books in our home as I was growing was more important to provide food for the family in the midst of the Great Depression. The first time I remember having a book occurred when a book showed up in a hand-me-down box from friends of my grandmother. The book was
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. It is still in print. A rather sad tale about the treatment of horses in the horse-and-carriage Victorian days, the book (as most classics do) still bears reading. That book whetted my appetite for more.

In elementary schools in the 40's in Hamlin, Texas , there were no libraries--just corner-of-the-room shelves filled with cast-off home readers and whatever teachers could scrounge up. So I had no experience with books there. Nor did our small town have a public library.

In my first encounter with an adult book, as a 6th grader I listened to my art teacher, Mrs. Griggs read Francis Parkinson Keyes' Dinner at Antoines'. She had just taken a trip to New Oreleans and shared that adventure with us land-locked uncultured West Texas students via pictures and that book. One could not get away with it today, but we all loved it--perhaps mainly because we didn't have to draw still-lifes while she read. Later on our Senior Trip in high school, we went to New Orleans, and several of us who had heard that book in 6th grade went to Antoines' and had the famous Oysters Rockefeller described by Keyes.

Our middle-school and high-schools were together in the same building, so imagine my delight and amazement when I encountered there a huge room filled with books called a library. There was only one problem--these were closed stacks--that is, the books were behind closed doors and one had to ask at a window for book desired. Never having had any experience with books, I didn't know what to ask for. I quickly wrangled a job as library helper and thus had access to any book I desired. And by the way, in my first job as librarian at a small school, I had the privilege of getting rid of the closed stacks there.

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