29 November 2011

Day Twenty-Nine - Books

I am thankful for books. This goes without saying. Show me a writer who doesn't like to read, and I'll show you someone who really doesn't know how to write.

I've been reading as long as I can remember. My mom was a kindergarten teacher before I was born, so she made me her guinea pig and tried to teach me to read at age 3, just to see if it would work. It did. I've been reading ever since.

Of course, my choices in reading material haven't always been good, edifying, or helpful. Some of it has been downright harmful.

When I was about 11-years-old, someone introduced me to romance novels, many of which were downright smutty. Nothing could be worse for an 11-year-old to read. Sort of like letting little girls watch or listen to fairy tales over and over - romance novels set me up for huge disappointments in my late teens and early adulthood. To date, my young adult daughters have never read romance novels, and I hope they never will.

In middle school, I discovered horror stories. Although my mother forbid me to read it, I scored a contraband copy of The Amityville Horror and read it each day to and from school on the bus. I was captivated. But it also scared the hell out of me. To this day, if I wake up at 3:15 a.m., I get freaked out. And the idea of a pig named Jodie with red eyes can still send shivers down my spine.

It was during college that I discovered John Steinbeck. I had read Of Mice and Men and Cannery Row in high school, but The Grapes of Wrath was the book that completely blew me away. I also had a wonderful literature professor who introduced us very gently and lovingly to William Faulkner's Go Down, Moses. It was a tough book, but she gave us a family tree that paved the way. Trust me, if you read the book, you NEED the family tree. I held onto my battered copy for years until I realized I could find it on the internet.

Over the years I've read thousands of books. Many were books I required my children to read during our homeschooling years, and many others I read to them aloud. I've read cheap, fluffy novels and deep, rich classics. As the years go by, I tend to put down more books before finishing them, than I used to. If a book doesn't "grab me" by the 2nd chapter, back it goes to the library or into the giveaway pile. The thrilling times are when I pick up a book I've never heard of and find it to be a gem. Recently for me, that includes Renato's Luck, by Jeff Shapiro; Lit, by Mary Karr; and now I'm reading City of Thieves, by David Benioff.

And of course, my battered old Bible has been a mainstay in my reading over the years. Imagine, God decided to communicate to us through the written word. I love that.

I'm thankful for all the books in my life, past and present, much like I'm thankful for the people. Ernest Hemingway said "There is no friend as loyal as a book." Well, Hemingway was a brilliant writer, but he had issues. I don't think of my books as friends, but more as mentors or security blankets. The characters inside them, however, are as real to me as my real-life family and friends.

What I wouldn't give to join in a conversation with Adam Trask, Sam Hamilton and Lee Chong from East of Eden. I re-read their conversations occasionally, laughing and weeping at the words that always manage to surprise me. Yes, I couldn't finish this without mentioning East of Eden as my all time favorite book, past, present, and probably future.

When someone asks, what book would you take to a deserted island if you could only take one? I just say - I'll go down with the ship. There's no way I could choose just one.

Copyright © 2011 - Paulla Estes

1 comment:

Carolyn said...

I wholeheartedly agree. I have a reading addiction, have always read books for as long as I can remember. Your story of The Amityville Horror reminded me that I was not allowed to see The Exorcist when it came out in theaters, so I decided to read the book, and therefore outsmart my parents. It scared the hell out of me, too. It was so much more scary than the movie. If I were on a sinking ship, it would probably be sinking because of all my books. Glad Kindle came along, but nothing compares to opening a new book and starting a new journey.