I wrote this post a few weeks ago for World Book Day. It seems appropriate to use it as the first post on my new website. It’s my love of books that led to my love of writing and it’s my love of both that has given me opportunities beyond my wildest dreams. Books have taken me to places that an airplane never could, and for that, I am thankful.
When I think back to my childhood I remember family, friends, and pets but, most of all, I remember books. I lived in the country and my closest neighbors were my grandparents and, after that, fields full of tobacco, corn, and cows. It is tempting to look back now and view my childhood as idyllic, and perhaps in some ways it was, but part of that stems from my parents working hard to make it look easy.
I know that there wasn’t much money left at the end of the month and that even small purchases frequently came with big sacrifices. I know that they went without so that my awkward, teenage self could have something that made her feel a little less like the odd girl out in my group of friends.
And while I frequently struggled with “fitting in”, I knew that I could always find refuge in books. It’s difficult for me to imagine a time when I didn’t have a book with me. I read under trees, in my bed, in plastic chaise lounges, in barns, and a secluded section of woods behind my grandparents’ house.
When I was about 13 I found a fallen tree there and I perched myself on it. I went back time and time again with book in hand to read and to listen to the sounds around me. Right now, thirty years later, I can close my eyes and feel the cool breeze pass through the trees on what was an otherwise oppressive day in the middle of a Kentucky summer. I found refuge there from a world that didn’t understand me and that I didn’t understand. In that little forested sphere that I created for myself I found peace and I also found joy.
I didn’t have many books of my own. They all came from my school library and, in the summer, the bookmobile. That bookmobile was a lifeline for me; a kid who had dreams of grand adventures but a reality that looked like hard work and smelled like limestone-rich dirt. Every week of summer break the bookmobile would roll into our gravel driveway and I would run out of the house with an armful of the previous week’s books and back into the house with an armful of new adventures just waiting for me to discover them.
Because of books, I visited with kings and queens and dined with presidents. I went on adventures with the Founding Fathers and spent a fair amount of time in a little house on the prairie. I felt the bravery of slaves making escapes from places not so far away from my little nest in the tree and I wondered at the power of a young woman, also an Elizabeth, who ruled an entire country. My family never took a vacation that involved a mode of travel other than car but it was fine by me. An airplane could never have taken me to all the places that I wanted to visit; only books could have done that.
I gave up reading for awhile in my 30’s. I think I was afraid to get lost in a story; afraid to give myself up to a different time and place. Maybe I was afraid that I wouldn’t want to come back or maybe I needed to hold onto the chaos in my life; to live and feel it in order to move beyond it. Even though I couldn’t, I always encouraged my daughter to read. My agreement with her was that I would ALWAYS buy her books. She clearly knows a good offer when she sees one because she’s never asked for clothes or toys, only books.
At 13 she manages her own library account and is constantly reviewing the online catalog for new releases and making hold requests. We stop by the library at least once each week to deposit last week’s armful of books and pick up the latest treasure trove (the parallel is not lost on me). It’s not often that I get to surprise her but, occasionally, I get wind of a new release and pre-order it so that it shows up at our door on release day. There is nothing I enjoy more than the look of surprise on her face when she opens the box and pulls out that new book.
About two years ago, I began to read again and I found myself fully immersed in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. The love of those books quite literally changed my life in ways that I won’t describe here but are pretty evident if you visit outlandercast.com. The love of that series led me to another series, All Souls Trilogy, written by Deborah Harkness. Again, I won’t go into the ways that those books are, even at this very moment, changing my life but you can take a peak at allsoulswitchywomen.com to get an idea.
This is my thank you to the authors of the hundreds of books that I read as a child. Thank you for showing me a world so different from my own. Thank you for telling stories about bravery and resilience so that one day when I called upon them I knew how those who had gone before me had used them. Thank you for describing London, Venice, Beijing, and Shanghai for me so that when I found myself in those cities I was able to say, “yes, I know this place…I’ve been here before.”
This is my thank you to Diana Gabaldon and Deborah Harkness. Thank you for stopping to listen to the stories that were inside of you and for being bold enough to share them with the world. Thank you for giving a voice to the characters who came to you asking to be written. Thank you for being generous with yourselves and for letting us share in the adventure with you. Thank you to everyone who is committed to the creation and distribution of books. And most importantly, thank you to everyone who speaks out about the continued importance of libraries. We must maintain them and they must be free.
Books change lives. Happy World Book Day.