I fell in love for the first time before I was six years old. I didn’t know anything about love back then, not true love, real love, but looking back I’m certain that’s what it was. But before you think I’m going someplace weird with this, let me clarify: I fell in love with books.
My old man was determined that I was going to be a reader. We’d sit on the couch in the evenings and he’d teach me how to sound out words, working through the vowels and consonants, learning about syllables and punctuation. At first I was just happy to be sitting with my dad and doing something together. Bonding time. Shared experience. It was fun.
I was a quick learner and soon began picking up books on my own to read. You see, I was the youngest in the family by ten years, so it was sort of like growing up an only child. There also weren’t a lot of kids my age in the neighborhood. Reading was adventure time for me. Those early books were the usual starter books – Dick and Jane, Dr. Seuss – but it didn’t take me long to discover other authors. And it wasn’t just reading for fun. I read voraciously. Everything I could get my hands on, even if I didn’t understand it. I craved books, I dreamt about them, I carried them with me wherever I went. That sounds like love to me. Or stalking. Either way, I was obsessed.
One of the first books I really fell in love with was Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. I don’t recall who gave it to me…I think it was a birthday or Christmas gift, but regardless, I read that book over and over until I could recite all the poems by heart. The pages were tattered and stained from whatever snacks I ate while thumbing back and forth, absorbing the text and illustrations, laughing and cringing at Shel’s imagination.
Next was The Hobbit. My first foray into fantasy. Of course, I loved it…read and re-read it dozens of times. I was mesmerized by Middle-Earth, the creatures, the people, the magic. One of my favorite things about this book is that Tolkien referenced all this history, but only in bits and pieces through the songs and poems. It made the world and the story real to me, knowing there was so much more to it, so much mystery. And yes, I still pick it up every couple of years and read it again. My paperback copy is well-worn and well-loved.
But the one incident that sealed my fate with books occurred when I was thirteen years old. That was the year my great aunt, Sister Thomasina (yes, she was a nun – for over seventy five years!) gave me a signed first-edition of Fighting Back, by Rocky Bleier and Terry O’Neil. She had won it in a raffle sponsored by her local television station. I still remember holding it in my hands, feeling the spine crack as I opened the cover, and smelling that fresh-paper. And the signature was cool, too.
Having a book like that, hardback, signed, in my possession pushed me over the edge. Books would become an important part of my life from that point forward. It wasn’t just about reading…no, I needed to possess them, to have and to hold, to line them up on a bookshelf and admire them from across the room.
Yeah, I know…obsession can be bad. But in my defense, it’s only books. Fantasy, science-fiction, history, art, biography, physics, it really doesn’t matter. I don’t discriminate. I love them all.
Unfortunately, my partner doesn’t feel the same way I do. I don’t think it jealousy, though. I think it has something to do with available space in our house. Whatever. To appease her I now limit how many hardback books I buy. I admit, it’s difficult. Walking into a local bookstore gives me goosebumps, seeing all those books, all those unread stories, makes me want to grab a shopping cart and load up. I want to give them all a good home, a place where they’ll be loved and respected, treated kindly.
The thing about books is that they aren’t just an escape for me. They teach me, broaden my horizons, expose me to new ideas, new possibilities. Books teach me what works and what doesn’t when it comes to writing. The show me how to improve myself, not only professionally, but personally, too. Books are arguably one of our most valuable resources. Why do you think some people feel the need to burn them? Because they teach people to think rationally, to question established ideas, to consider other possibilities. Some people thinks that’s dangerous.
Not me. I think books are beautiful inside and out. They are magic. And the writers? Well, they are the magicians that weave the spells that bind me to the pages.
So yeah, I have a problem when it comes to books. I love them probably a little too much, but I think it’s a healthy love, a love of knowledge, of imagination. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.