26 December, 2007

On Books, and Love

I've been sitting this morning, with BOWLS of coffee from the cafetiere (I got to put my grounds in my new kitchen compost bin!) , thinking about mom, and about books.

For Christmas, I bought this edition of Pippi Longstocking for myself and for the family. David took it up last night for bedtime reading. My mom read this book as a child, and I remember her reading Pippi to me when I was very small. She obviously thought it was very funny. Later, I read the original and the sequels for myself, loved them, and still do. I know mom would have loved this edition. The illustrations are by Lauren Child, who writes Charlie and Lola - a new favorite in our family.

I have so many memories of books and mom. When I was 7 or so, I got a book called Arabel's Raven - I found it laugh-out-loud hilarious, and I just had to share it with someone. I must have read most of it aloud to mom, who listened, and laughed, with a patience I only truly understood once I had children of my own. I still love to read aloud, when it's something worth sharing, but it's so hard to LISTEN when someone else does the same (small David and Foxtrot comic anthologies, I'm talking about you), so I try not to read out loud too much, or too long.

In second grade, when I changed schools because we moved to New Haven, the teacher told my mom I was reading too much. Mom didn't take that well, thank God, and the (awful) teacher shut up about it.

Mom introduced me to books that she had read as a child (Mrs. Pepperpot, The Spettecake Holiday, The Wonderful Adventures of Nils - it's interesting in retrospect that all these Scandinavian books were available in the New Haven branch library we frequented...such variety is tough to find in the libraries I know today). And she found new books that she thought I'd like. I remember the first book I read was Sam and the Firefly. As soon as I figured that out, she gave me On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I was off to the races, reading "like the wind, Bullseye!"

Mom loved those Little House books as much as I did, I think, and she re-read them often. She liked Farmer Boy best, because of all the food descriptions, and she really had an empathy for the characters in The Long Winter, because of all the long, hard Swedish winters she remembered. She didn't talk much about her childhood, but she did talk about the snow, the incredible deep snow that you could tunnel through, and wearing felt boots because leather would freeze and crack.

Later, I met books like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lords of the Rings trilogy (and The Hobbit, of course), and the best of the best, The Once and Future King. I have read it uncountable times now, and it's still a book I'd take to a desert island. Mom loved it so much she embroidered a t-shirt with saying from the part where the Wart is turned into an ant: "Everythng Not Forbidden Is Compulsory." She grocked that.

Even when we were poorer than poor, there were always books. Books and bookcases were the defining decorative element in all our homes. Curtains? Thrift store finds or made from sheets. Chairs? Sofa? Thrift store for sure? (I got my love of thrift shops and yard sales from mom, as well. So many wonderful things we got second hand...) But books, books were always with us. The library was an important place, always. Wherever we lived, we knew the library intimately. And whenever there was any money to spare, we bought books - new, used, just books. I'm still a sucker for a bookstore, and I find it hard to say "No" to my own kids (or myself) in a bookstore, even here in England where books cost twice as much as in the States.

As I grew up, our tastes in comfort reading stayed similar - Josephine Tey (The Daughter of Time, Brat Farrar, The Singing Sands, all of them really), Dick Francis, Nevil Shute's A Town Like Alice, Helen MacInnes, Mary Stewart. When the Harry Potter books came out, she was every bit as hooked as the rest of us. It became a family affair, going to the bookstores on launch night. When I pick up old favorites from the shelf now, they're ones that mom and I both held and read many times, so I feel connected to her. It's a lovely feeling.

Reading is perhaps the best gift my mom ever gave me. I do wish so much she were still around to share that gift.


Lynn said...

What a beautiful post about your mom. Yes I agree, reading is one of the best gifts you can give your children. And what kind of a backward teacher says a child is reading too much?!?!!? Isn't that what you WANT them to do?!?

We always spend way too much at the Book Fairs at school; I have a hard time saying no as well. And only a few people understand going into a book store for 3 hours at a time.

Rosie said...

Thanks for sharing those lovely memories. What en evil teacher! After my grandmother was very ill as a little girl (we're talking France in the early 1900s) she was forbidden from reading for a couple of years in case she got "brain fever" again. She was furious about that everafter.

Have you discovered the secondhand bookshop in King Street, King's Lynn? My Dad and I both bought several of our Xmas presents in there. It has 3 floors packed full of all sorts of things, with a small but welcoming children's section up the first flight of steps and some "collectable" children's books on the ground floor.

Toni said...

What a lovely post!!! It is so wonderful to share a love of reading with anyone--your kids, friends, parents--I think a love of reading is the greatest gift of all time--it opens every door that can exist in the world.

My mother in law presented me with a beautiful book of antique recipes for Christmas because I love books & love to read. I just love it!

The teacher who said you were reading too much was obviously a very unhappy soul who missed out on the joys of reading--glad your mother didn't believe her!!!!!

Susie J. said...

The love of reading is such a wonderful thing to pass from one generation to the next. My grandmother read constantly. My mom reads constantly. I read constantly. And now my own little girl refuses to put books down.