I learned to read in the fall of 1971. Bert and Ernie taught me how to spell SHOE. But hey, I thought the word was ZAPATO. Well, that’s the day I figured out I was bilingual. But that was also the day I discovered words and their power.
By the summer of 1972, I was a reader. The end of Kindergarten culminated in my first Scholastic Book Club order. My purchase? You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, a paperback filled with the classic comic strips. I read them over and over again. I identified with Charlie Brown. I loved Lucy. She was everything I wanted to be, confident, sassy and bold. Peppermint Patty was practical. Snoopy was lovable and smart. I loved them all. I wish I still had that book, but I am sure my mom donated it long before I went to college.
My love for books grew over the years. I ordered every week from Scholastic using my lunch money (who needed lunch when you had a book), to buy the next book by Helen Cavanaugh (A Place for Me, The Easiest Way), Maud Johnson (A Kiss for Tomorrow, Warm in the Winter, Cold in the Summer, Sixteen Can be Sweet), or Norma Fox Mazer. (Baby Face, Taking Terri Mueller). If the cover looked appealing, I bought it. If the description was enticing, I bought it. If I didn’t have money, which was often, I got it at the library.
I loved Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume and Caroline B. Cooney, Lois Lowry.
They were my friends. They understood me.
I read these books to stay alive, to stay healthy. I lived through the pain of the main characters, knowing they shared my pain and together we could get through any tough times. There was a period in my adolescence when I contemplated suicide, sex, alcohol and smoking cigarettes. I was in pain and scared.
I was a rebel. But only in my mind.
The heroines in each of the books I read helped me live. They not only helped me live, they kept me alive. They spoke to my heart and showed me the way to survive. I always thought, “If I die now, I’ll never know what happened to Katie, or Clara, Deeny, or Jane.” So, I didn’t. I tied a knot at the end of my rope and read some more.
And I dreamed. I thought of the castles I one would day visit. I thought of the cool adventures that surely one day would wait for me. I thought of college and travels, of romance and friendship. I forgot about my lonely world and just like in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, I waited for the passage to another world. And every time I opened up a book, I found that passage way.
Many of these titles I saved and stored in a box in my closet. Here they wait patiently for my five-year-old daughter to grow up, so she can read them. Will she love them as much? Will she need them in the same way? Her existence thus far is happier than mine ever was.
Maybe she will read them and say, “Mother, pah-lease.” Or maybe, she’ll think my books rock. It’s hard to guess what will inspire her in years to come, but I do know she has discovered the word shoe as well as amphibian, omnivore, hypothesis, basically, magenta and cowabunga. She has discovered the power of words and I can only hope that a good book will be a good friend, like they were for me.
Which book was your friend? What inspired you to read? Which book kept you alive?