I don’t remember ever being read to as a child. I don’t remember any children’s books around our house. Ask me my favorite book as a child, I don’t know. I do remember a few books stacked on tables for decoration and Mama sometimes reading a mass paperback book.
The first experience I remember with a book was in 3rd grade. Our teacher, Miss Aden, read aloud each day from the Secret Garden. I was transported into the mysterious world of the sick child, the discovery of the neglected garden and the miracle of transformation.
During high school, my older sisters read Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower, The Wolf and the Dove and passed them down to me. They called them crotch burners, as when the character, Heather Simmons, seeks refuge in the arms of a virile and dangerous stranger.
It took me leaving my Southern home and culture to discover my love of books. My first couple of years at the University of Mississippi had been a social endeavor. I was to join a sorority and assure I would have a husband. I don’t remember my parents discussing what I’d like to major in, but I do remember that my mama didn’t speak to me for weeks when I dropped out of sorority rush.
My brother, eleven years older, became a professor at the University of Montana. After a visit, and falling in love with the rivers he took me on and the mountains we hiked, I decided to finish at U of M in 1981. I studied, became interested in books and learning. I discovered writers such as Tom McGuane, Richard Hugo, Ivan Doig and started reading Southern writers, Eudora Welty and Faulkner. I couldn’t get enough of this newly discovered pleasure.
No wonder when reading Welty’s One Writer’s Beginning, I wished I had grown up in her house:
“I learned from age two or three that any room in the house, at any time of day, was there to read in or to be read to. My mother read to me. She’d read to me in the big bedroom in the mornings, when we were in her rocker together, which ticked in rhythm as we rocked, as though we had a cricket accompanying the story. She’d read to me in the dining room on winter afternoons in front of the coal fire, with our cuckoo clock ending the story with “Cuckoo,” and at night when I’d go in my own bed.” Eudora Welty
Welty lived in the same town I grew up in, Jackson, MS. My parents never spoke of her. They were more concerned with our appearances and place in society. Once I had discovered Eudora Welty I remember though getting chills of excitement when Ms Welty and I were both buying underwear at McRaes department store.
In the 90’s, I moved back to Mississippi after a divorce, to be close to family. As fate would have it, Tom McGuane came to Lemuria Bookstore for a reading of Keep the Change. A little piece of Montana in Mississippi. After the signing, I said my hello’s to John, the bookstore owner. We knew each other from earlier years. Our reconnection landed me a job at his beautiful bookstore. John had recently moved his tiny bookstore into a brand new space with room for each genre, a children’s section that felt like its own store and a first editions room where John kept his office. He ran a smooth operation for author signings, promoting them, assuring we had plenty of their books and a special booth for them to sit, converse with readers and sign their books.
I was in heaven, surrounded by books, talking to customers about books, buying and reading so many books. (For the first time, I had to get prescription eye glasses) Meeting the personalities behind the writing was also a treat. I was struck by the kindness of writers I met such as Kaye Gibbons, Lori Moore, John Grisham, Mark Childress, Ellen Gilchrist, Rick Bass, Tim O’Brien, Jim Harrison, Jimmy Buffett and Willie Morris (I loved Willie, what a character) to name a few. If I were working there today, I’d be meeting Jesymn Ward, Kiese Laymon, Angie Thomas, Natasha Trethewey and Ralph Eubanks.
Books are what I spend my “extra” money on. Often buying more than I have time to read. I’m not a fast reader nor do I devour several books every few weeks, but I read consistently. I find delight in the craft of writing and the talent, along with hard work of writers.
I don’t know about God, but what about the miracle of making strokes on paper that become letters, then words, then paragraphs, an entire page, then a book, a story.
A writer has crafted the words and sentences in a way that makes a reader cry, laugh, empathize, feel connected and understood. Or one is taken on a journey, can feel the air, smell the scents, see the sky and all the surroundings described. They are educated about things they would have never know of before reading the book. Their eyes are opened. They see things differently now.
It is nothing short of a miracle.
As always, thanks for reading.