A Lifetime of Books

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love books, and when I think back over my life, each period of my development is connected to the books I was reading. Two of my early favorites were by Swedish authors. I was enchanted by Pippi Longstocking; a tomboyish, quirky character whose adventures were chronicled in a series of books under her name. And, as an identical twin, I felt a kinship with the identical triplets in Flicka, Ricka, Dicka. Later, I collected an American series about multiples, this time a duo of fraternal twins – The Bobbsey Twins.
As a child, my mother tried very hard to get me interested in music. When my sister and I were about eight or nine, she signed us up for piano lessons. Although I constantly had to be reminded to practice, she was pleased that I was so eager to go to my lessons. Unbeknownst to her, the only reason I went willingly was because my music teacher had a waiting room filled with wonderful children’s books for me to read while I waited for my sister to finish her lesson. The most memorable of these books was a complete set of Winnie the Pooh stories. Unfortunately, I lacked musical talent, and after two painful years, I was still struggling through a beginner book because I still hadn’t mastered note reading. When my teacher suggested that my mother might find a better use for her money, I was devastated. There were still so many fascinating books in her waiting room I had not even begun to read.
Growing up, my sister and I went to the library every week and checked out six books, the maximum allowed, which we quickly devoured. By the time I was in grade six, I had read every book in the children’s section of the library. With my parents’ permission, I was allowed to take out books from the adult section of the library. Occasionally, the librarian would steer me to particular books but for the most part, I was on my own. I chose books by roaming the aisles, and pulling out books whose titles caught my fancy. If the story summary on the book flap sounded interesting, I would check the book out. This led to some strange, and is some cases, questionable choices for someone my age. I can’t remember ever being forbidden to take any book out. In retrospect, this astonishes me since this was in the late 50’s and early 60’s when children’s access to the full spectrum of life’s experiences was curtailed by society. For example, all books on “the facts of life” were kept in a bookcase behind the librarian’s desk, under lock and key, and only relinquished to adults upon request.
I love a good mystery, a preference that was nurtured at ages ten or eleven by Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys mystery series. The summer after my second year in law school, I was doing legal grunt work in the law department of a mutual fund company. It was bottom of the heap, tedious, boring work with stress inducing deadlines. My roommate, and now long time best friend, was also a voracious reader. I can’t remember how the challenge came about, but we decided to try and read every Agatha Christie mystery in the Boston Public Library. And by the end of the summer, we did. Now my favorite mysteries are by authors like P.D. James, Tana French, Louise Penny, Tony Hillerman, and Ruth Rendell, to name just a few.
Currently, the books I read most frequently are literary fiction by authors like Anthony Doerr, Abraham Verghese, Ann Patchett and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Literary fiction informs my own writing style and I love the astounding way these authors use language. Occasionally, I will stray into other genres. I discovered the pleasure of magical realism when I read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and of course, I still can’t resist a good mystery.
I have a long list of books I would like to read and another list of books I want to go back and reread. And, every year there are authors I know and admire or new talented writers that take a universal story and remake it into something new, surprising and ultimately satisfying. It is comforting to know there will be an adequate supply to last me the rest of my life. And if I were to picture a perfect death, it would be in a chair with a book in my hand.