Wednesday, August 03, 2022

A Trail of Books

 I was thinking this morning how grateful I am for small things, the cup of coffee I was drinking for instance and the person who makes it every morning; the way the bright sunshine banishes the dark the moment I open the bedroom blinds; and books - how grateful I am for books! Remember when computers were beginning to be something ordinary people could have in their homes? Books will soon be obsolete, we were warned. I shuddered at the thought. How awful would it be to no longer curl up in a comfortable chair and travel out from your room, in imagination, to meet people and see places you had little chance of meeting or seeing in your own neighborhood? There would still be stories but now you'd be reading them by the harsh, glaring light of a computer.

 My earliest memory of loving a book was turnng the pages of  "The Ugly Duckling". I was enchanted by the pictures of the fluffy little ducklings, especially by the one who was so different from all the others. At that time I was just learning to use scissors and you can guess the rest. I took my beloved book and used it to practice my cutting skills, to my later dismay. Such are the tragedies of toddlerhood.

My first chapter books were a birthday gift from a family friend, an older lady who had introduced my parents to each other.  "Auntie" Ita, with the gift of those three "Katy" books, expanded my reading horizons, sealing her place in my heart forever.

With Heidi I travelled to Switzerland. I loved her gruff Grandfather, the more because one of mine was already gone when I was born, the other died when I was 3 or 4. Little Women took me to America again (I'd been there once before with the "Katy" books) little guessing that I'd one day live there! Of the 4 sisters, as a tree climbing tomboy, I identified most with Jo. I wanted to be Jo, but, being young and fickle, I soon decided, upon reading the Mallory Towers books, that it'd be more fun to be Darrell Rivers and go away to boarding school, out from under the thumbs of the nuns, having midnight feasts and all kinds of adventures. I devoured those books!

In secondary school we were introduced to Dickens, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, George Elliot. When I found an excerpt I liked in our English reader it would send me haring off on my bicycle, across town, to the library, in search of the book it was taken from. 

 In my teens I spent most of one summer up a tree at the end of our garden reading "Gone with the Wind". I had a cozy nest there, hidden from my mother and safe from pesky siblings. The only person who spied me there was my mother's friend, our neighbor Kitty, who would yell from her kitchen window "Molly W! You're going to fall out of that tree and break your arse!" (Kitty was not one to mince words, and, to her credit, she never ratted me out.)

I still have an old and battered copy of "Rebecca" that was a gift to my mother from a beau who predated my dad - the road not taken! Who would I be if she'd married him? Would my name be Rebecca? 

By the time "The Thorn Birds" came my way, I already had two children of my own. Sitting up in bed reading it one night, I realised my eyesight was no longer perfect and I was going to need glasses.

Years later, I found Angela's Ashes and when I got to the last page, went straight back to the first to start over again. McCourt was writing about my hometown but from a completely different angle than what had been my experience growing up. Which only goes to show, no matter how well you think you know a place, you probably only know a very small part of it, mostly colored by your own life in that place.

Killing time at a library in Oregon a few years ago, waiting for an Uber, I came upon Niall Williams. Hmm. Familiar name, but why? Then I remembered having, many years ago, read a book he'd written with his wife about how they'd left high-paying jobs in New York and moved to Ireland to live in a falling down cottage in Co. Clare that had been left to her by her grandfather. Conditions were spartan and it rained all the time, but they persevered and here he was again! When I returned home I sought out "This is Happiness" at my local library and fell in love. Reading it was like taking a trip back to my roots without ever getting on a plane. 

 And now, for the last few weeks I've been enthralled with "Middlemarch". Where had it been all my life? I'm guessing the nuns balked at it being "a book for grown ups" as Virginia Wolfe famously called it. Safer to stay with "Mill on the Floss." What was most remarkable to me was how spot-on Eliot's perceptions are about us humans. Though first published in 1871, more than 150 years ago, her characters could step out of those pages, get a 2022 hairstyle, some modern clothing, drive a car instead of a horse drawn carriage and no one would be able to tell they came from another era, because under the skin, they are moved and motivated by the same needs and emotions as we are.

 Without books I think I'd have lost my mind during Covid. We couldn't get together with friends but, fortunately, there were legions of new friends waiting for us between the covers of books. One of the great pleasures of reading, for me, is knowing I'm not alone. All the people who love the books I love are automatically my friends. Which isn't to say that if we don't like the same books we can't be friends. Some of the people I love most have different reading tastes and that's what makes the world go 'round! To get lost in books, to be moved by them to both laughter and tears, makes me realise how connected we all are by our shared humanity; that, for all our arguments and disagreements, especially in today's social environment, we are more like each other than different.

As a hopeless card carrying Luddite I'm glad those dire predictions have not come true, and those of us who choose to can still curl up in a cozy corner (or a nest in a tree) with the comforting heft of a book in our hands, glasses on our noses, imagination on "Go!"



Wisewebwoman said...

I can so relate Molly. I loved those Katy books. And all you list. Hiding away often to read the banned books (Monica Dickens was banned in Ireland along with thousands more). Someone would get a copy in London of something banned. Tear off the cover and use brown paper and then pass around the pages as they were read to the rest of us. Even at retreats. LOL.

I am so glad my granddaughter abhors Ebooks as does my daughter. We're divils for the paper!


Pam said...

Me too, Molly. Give me a book any time. I hardly used the Kindle that Ross gave me, years ago, and then it died (of neglect?). I too loved Katy and various other American books - did you read Thimble Summer? There were Kewpie dolls in it - I had no idea what they were but have remembered the word for sixty years! Middlemarch I read and liked at university, though haven't read it since. But I remember it quite well. The Mill on the Floss was so sad that I couldn't possibly read it now. My favourite modern novelists are probably Anne Tyler and Kate Atkinson. I LOVE them.

Thimbleanna said...

And see, this is why we are friends (albeit imaginary LOL)! It's amazing how two little girls in different countries could have such a similar childhood. My first book memory was Make Way for Ducklings and now my little granddaughters and I love reading it together. Someone has scribbled all over the book and we all squeal in delight when we get to the scribbles and I blame them on my little sister (even though it could have been me.) We read the same books in childhood -- Little Women, ohhhh Rebecca {swoon} and I vividly remember spending an entire rainy Saturday on the couch glued to Gone with the Wind. And who could forget Anne of Green Gables? And The Yearling? And have you heard of Up A Road Slowly? It was one of my favorites.

Fortunately, my mother saved my favorites from childhood and now I have them. She was a book lover and had SO many books. It broke my heart to get rid of many of her books when we cleaned out her house -- sooo many gems were donated to book resources. I kept as many as I could, but we have tons of books too. I do worry what my children will do with my books when they clean up my mess -- they don't have books everywhere like we do. I'm hoping to plant the seed in the granddaughters.

Sorry for the long reply -- you've obviously hit a common thread ;-D. I've added a few books now to my book list from your post. I'm currently on a Hemingway path due to my recent visit to Key West. Just finished The Sun Also Rises and am thinking A Farewell to Arms will be next. Have you read any Wallace Stegner? Oh dear ... this text could go on forever ... XOXO

molly said...

WWW - "divils" made me laugh! I think my book addiction was main-lined to me from my mother. She used to tell us tales of nearly setting fire to the bed, reading "penny dreadfuls" under the blankets by the light of a candle!

Pam - The OC got me one of those reading gadgets as a birthday present years ago. I do occasionally dust it, but not much more. In spite of years of neglect I think there's still a spark of life in mine. I had been thinking I might reread The Mill on the Floss again as I don't remember much about it, but now I think won't! Besotted as I was by Middlemarch, I'm now reading My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead which gives great insight into from whom and where Eliot got inspiration for the plot and characters. Anne Tyler and Nuala O'Faolain are other favourites along with Maggie O'Farrell who, I believe breathes the same Edinburgh air that you do!

gz said...

Books frame our lives and sometimes direct them.
I should reduce my library..but even a look at a cover prompts memories of the book and life. How can I get rid of my friends?!

molly said...

Thimbleanna - I had a pen pal in Wisconsin - too bad I didn't get you! I still haven't read Anne of Green Gables (or, as the OC calls it, Anne of Green Bagels) much to eldest daughter's chagrin. Andd The Yearling - how could I forget? I didn't read it until I had an empty nest but remember our middle boy watching the movie long ago and surreptitiously wiping away a tear. I read Crossing to Safety a few years ago and Angle of Repose is "reposing" patiently in my To Read pile. As you said, we could talk books forever but one one must occasionally sleep....

gz - I hear you. I look around here and think "Some of these books have to go!"

Elephant's Child said...

I suspect my first comment is in your spam folder. I read every day. And reread old favourites too. And yes, the house is packed to the rafters with books. Too many? Perhaps.

molly said...

EC - couldn't find it, but thanks anyway!. "Goofle" is probably messing with my head again....

Dee said...

Dear Molly, this posting was such a delight to read. I was with you throughout all your life with books--using the scissors, discovering libraries, reading "grown-up" books, traveling way beyond the small town in which I lived, discovering characters who showed me ways to deal with overwhelming emotions and with tragedy, discovering, too, the deep darkness within us and the light that shines within the actions and words and hearts of empathetic friends . . . and strangers.

Oh, as the poet said, "there is no frigate like a book."

For the past two weeks, I have been thinking of reading "Middlemarsh" again. Now, I mostly read e-books because I can increase the type size. Or I listen to books on CD.

You know, you have such a way with words. You love them and treasure them, I think, and when you share them, you draw me--the reader--into your world. Thank you. Peace.

molly said...

Dee - I hope you get a chance to read Middlemarch again. It took me a while to really get into it but then I couldn't put it down. What blew me away was how relevant it was, even 150 years later. Now I'm reading Far from the Madding Crowd and thinking that I need never go to the library again since all those older books are here in my house. But that would mean I'd never see the like-minded friends I've made there, so not going to do that.
One of these days I hope to outsmart "Goofle" so I can comment on your blog again!

Dee said...

Dear Molly, I have BritBox on my television and so I’ve started watching the five or six episode English presentation of “Middlemarsh,” filmed a number of years ago. I thought I could do that and then if I really got hooked I would read the book. I read from the maddening crowd some 65 years ago when I got to go to college. All those marvelous books to which sister Scholastica and sister Teresa AN introduced us and I can’t truly remember much of any of those books. And yet I’m sure they helped form who I am today. I’m so glad you’re enjoying the books. Peace, Dee