I come from a family of non-readers.
That is really not an overstatement—none of my siblings read anything but the newspaper. My mother has been reading the same book for the last 30 years. She’s still on page 15. I don’t remember my father ever reading a book. A magazine now and then, yes. Books? Never. We had books in our house, but I was about the only one who ever read them.
I’ve never understood this, to be honest. I view books as friends: as a means to adventure, as a way to explore and to learn, a source of fun and support. They challenge me, they excite me, they comfort me, and yes, sometimes they frustrate me (I can’t tell you how many books I reviewed for RT Book Reviews over the years that made sad because I could see how they could be so much better). Like all good friends, they cheer me up when I’m down, smack me down when I get too full of myself, make me laugh, help me to learn more about myself and the world.
So how did I end up the sole reader in a family of non-readers? The woman who took care of me when I was little used to read to me constantly. She also taught me to read when I was three, probably in self-defense since I pestered her non-stop to read to me. Although she wasn’t much of a reader herself, she saw the value in reading and instilled that in me. Plus, I think she liked to read to me. No matter how busy she was with something else, she’d always make the time to read me a story whenever I asked her to. Once I could read simple story books on my own, she’d get me to read them to her. Simple give-and-take, but as I read about pokey little puppies, princesses and princes, wicked queens, and a bear of very little brain, I became completely enchanted with worlds well outside my limited suburban area. To this day, I enjoy nothing more than a book set in another country (or on another planet, or during another time period) for the exact same reason.
It mushroomed from there. By the time I got to grade school I was well past first grade reading level, and oh my! There was a library. A vast room filled with books I’d never read. By the time I was in 4th grade, I’d plowed through all of them, many of them twice (and thus was born my life-long habit of rereading favorite books). My parents gave in to my pleading and started taking me to the town library. I spent my pocket money on books. My memories of childhood summers mostly involve me sitting in the crotch of the peach tree in our backyard, immersed in one book or another.
I solved mysteries with Nancy Drew and The Dana Girls. I learned that my problems were comparatively stupid compared to Anne Frank’s. I cried over Old Yeller. I discovered CS Lewis’ Narnia, although I didn’t much like the books, but I read them anyway because they were different. I made friends with Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple. I realized I don’t much like dwarves and elves after reading Tolkein. I took a book to my high school graduation that I found in the local library and checked out because the title intrigued me. Called Murder Must Advertise, it featured a detective unlike any I’d encountered previously: Lord Peter Wimsey.
I majored in English in college, where I learned to hate Hemingway, respect James Joyce and love, of all authors, Herman Melville. I’ve lived in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Maine, and I have friends all over the world, many of whom I’ve made because of a mutual love of books. I spent years running a discussion list devoted to Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, where I met my co-conspirator on this blog. I’ve made good friends thanks to Lord Peter, Miles Vorkosigan, Ian Rutledge, and other characters.
There have been times in my life where I’ve had nothing—no money, no possessions beyond the bare necessities. But no matter where I’ve gone, I’ve always had my books. They’ve been part of my family forever. At times of great loneliness, they’ve been my friends.
The publishing world is changing. But no matter what form they come in, there will always be books. And if there are always books, and if you’re a reader, you’re never truly alone.