I, Reader

8

A Book Is Like a Garden Carried in the Pocket

– Chinese Proverb

I’ve always kind of pitied people who don’t like to read.  To this day, I still feel a stir of excitement and headiness when I walk into a bookstore or library.  And this goes back to those childhood trips to the Belmont Branch Library with my mother.  It is summer.  Richmond, Virginia.  Hot.  And there is a humidity which makes my clothes moist and wrinkly.   “You can come inside or just sit in the car,” my mother would murmur, carrying the stack of novels she’d already read that week.  I’m sure as my legs stuck to the leather seats of her Oldsmobile, my throat sore and parched, as I heard the rumble of the window unit hanging out of the library window, I must have thought anything beats this asphalt car hell so I trotted inside.  Before long, I was heading home with my own stack of books, each title proudly written down in a log to show off to my new teacher come fall.

Over time, I enjoyed the likes of Mr. Popper’s Penguins and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, eventually moving on to Victoria Holt and Agatha Christie.  My mother was crushed I wasn’t interested in her Little Colonel books though her hopes raised when I read almost every Nancy Drew ever written.  In my bedroom there was a white wooden bookcase and her collection of Nancy Drew from the World War II era (royal blue binding with scarlet print) commanded the top shelf.  I still have the books: the paper now brown and hard to read. The Secret of the Old ClockThe Mystery at Lilac Inn.  Oh, how I wanted to not only be Nancy Drew, but meet a nice male friend like Ned Nickerson.

Sad to say, my fifteen-year-old and I don’t go to the library together.  She will read a People or Seventeen for pleasure, but by the time she’s finished her school assignments, the likes of Emerson and Hawthorne, the last thing she wants to do is meander around a public library with her mother. When she was younger, however, we both agreed that Nancy Drew was the bomb.

Happily, I go on my own and I still enjoy a trip to the library more than shopping.  And I prefer the old style libraries.  My neighborhood library recently had a $4.8 million renovation, courtesy of the taxpayers’ milk.  Many of the books are gone.  Instead, we have teen areas, quiet areas, kidney-shaped desks, computers; the atmosphere is that of an airline terminal.  The building has gone green and they took away the bulletin board.   I now go to the branch in the next neighborhood which has more shelves of books.  Half the pleasure of going to a library is anticipating what you’re going to bring home.  Often I have no idea and I usually make a choice that surprises even me.   I also like to reread old faves when I stumble upon them.

When I think of a great reader, I think of my 86-year-old mother-in-law, Betty.  She lives in a retirement home, although she’s not interested in pottery or volunteering in the gift shop.  Bridge?  No, thank you.  She stays in her room and reads almost a book a day (“And I don’t skip,” she attests.”).  She loves the fact she no longer has to cook, clean, ferry children, babysit grandchildren, do good works, or go to church; she just reads.  In her room there are stacks of books everywhere – philosophy, novels, murder mysteries.  And in the middle is her late husband’s giant blue recliner.  She told me she learned how to read before she went to school, with a little help from her parents, and practiced reading the funnies and Time Magazine to the cook Maria.

My mother-in-law has the ability to zone in and concentrate.  She raised five children and studied for two master’s degrees while driving carpool.  All of her children are readers.  By the time my husband was six, he was spending part of his weekly allowance on Hardy Boys books, later collecting pulp fiction.  We have dozens of the Edward Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan series downstairs, still lovingly read, usually in front of a fire.

As more snow and sleet come down this Friday afternoon, scant sign of spring on the horizon, I grab my thick coat and head off to the library. We were snowed in for two days last week and I plowed through 877 pages of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented MrRipley novels.  So lurid, but I couldn’t put them down.  So much better than shopping online or eating the rest of the Girl Scout cookies.

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8 Comments

  1. Carol.dunlap@gmail.com'

    Good read, Tyler. I do love libraries but with the overdue fines I once racked up at Richmond Public Libraries, Michael encouraged me to buy books. First edition, signed, he said, would be cheaper. On another matter, with three e-readers floating around, I have not yet read my first e-book! I still like the feel and the heft of a book! What are you reading now?

    • Carol! Thanks for your nice comment! Good to hear from you. Pass the link on. It would be so great to have some readers. I’m putting the next one up Monday or Tuesday. Just finished a lot of Patricia Highsmith and going to re-start Jon Meacham’s Art of Power on Jefferson. Well done. Take care. Let’s have a reunion if you make it my way.

  2. scott.elizabethv@gmail.com'
    Elizabeth Scott on

    Hi Tyler–
    Thank you for your kind words about Mother. G. may have told you how we used her absorption with books to our advantage when we were kids. If we wanted to do something, but weren’t sure she’d approve, we’d wait until she had her nose in a book to ask permission. She was likely to say “yes, dear,” without really focusing on what we had asked.
    You also gave me some vivid flashbacks to my beloved Belmont Branch Library. I remember when I was old enough to take the Westhampton 16 bus to the library by myself. I’d walk the mile from the house to the bus stop with my pile of books to return, and come back home with another stack. (and I have to confess…. I have the complete set of Mother’s Little Colonel books still on my bookshelves. Practically read the covers off of them when I was a kid, along with the Anne of Green Gables series. I was overjoyed to find that L.M.Montgomery had written 3 more books in the series which were reissued in paperback a few years ago…. about Anne and Gilbert’s 6 children. )
    Hope you don’t mind that I shared your blog with my book group!

    • Elizabeth,
      I’m so glad you liked it. Many happy memories for those of us who grew up as readers. For me the Belmont Branch is remembered like yesterday.

      By all means share the blog with anyone you think would be interested. I would love to build an audience for my weekly essays.

      Be good! And in the words of Somerset Maugham, “Follow your inclinations with due regard to the policeman around the corner.”

  3. R-brighton@hotmail.com'

    Tyler, I just love you. I reread Agatha Christie every summer. My anticipation of the season comes with the knowledge that I can engage in this guilty pleasure. I also have happy memories of the public library of childhood. It was miles away (uphill both ways, of course). Keep up the good work.

  4. bphanrath@yahoo.com'

    Your reference to reading….”so much better than shopping online or eating the rest of the girl scout cookies.” So well done. Alas my reading vice is all things cooking where did that recipe originate, how did the research kitchen at Taco Bell come up with the crunch wrap, how can you possibly make a decent roux in 20 minutes, the ultimate 5 ingredient recipe.
    Please tell us about family favorite meals, the Thanksgiving meal gone so very wrong we’ll be laughing for days, the wonderful moment when your daughter asked you to cook something that you used to ask your mother to make for you, or the horror of fresh game showing up in the kitchen when you were a child and how much worse it was when you realized how good Bambino meat, Brunswick stew with bunny, (ok, no more of that) tasted on a cold winter rainy evening.

    • I love all your suggestions. You should have a blog! I’ll do any topic as long as it relates to writing somehow. Do wish blogs were called something else. The name reminds me of a sci-fi monster.

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