My love of books goes back as far as I can remember, which happens to be a very long time ago. I was around two and a half then, because that is when my brother came home from the hospital and he was a tiny baby in my first memories of books.
As with most children, our mom and aunt read lots of books to us: picture books, story books, fairy tales. My very first favorite book was a beautifully illustrated copy of "Thumbelina." To this day I can still picture her tiny elfin figure among the flowers and leaves. I'm sure I actually held the tiny Thumbelina in the palm of my hand way back then. A next favorite was a pop-out book about Santa Claus and his reindeer. I had to be three and a half then. The illustrations of Santa were classic, with his big round belly, chubby cheeks, pink nose, white hair and beard, red suit and jaunty red hat. Rudolph was there with his bright red nose leading the other reindeer and, of course, the sleigh was filled with a big bag of toys.
I know Dr. Seuss's "The Cat in the Hat" and "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back" were favorites of mine at an early age. So too were the Terhune dog stories that Mom read to us. I also loved O'Henry and Mom read my favorite stories to my brother and I over and over again. To this day, my favorites are "The Gift of the Magi" and "The Ransom of Red Chief." Now all that was long before I could read on my own.
I have early memories of going to the library and sitting on the floor looking at shelf after shelf of books. How excited and proud I was to check out story books and bring them home for Mom to read to us. I can still picture those bookshelves and the musty smell of the library as if it was yesterday.
I remember the very moment I learned to read. It was like one minute I couldn't read and was just staring at the pictures and words. The next minute something clicked and I could read the words. The book was "Dick and Jane." From that moment on there was no stopping me. I read every book in my path. It meant at the library I could move up to the shelves for early readers and oh what a treasure trove that was to my young eyes.
From there I moved up again to the "Betsy and Tacy," "Five Little Peppers," "Little Women," Laura Ingalls Wilder and Nancy Drew series. I read every one and most more than twice. Other standouts from those early years were "The Enormous Egg," "Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates," "Old Yeller," "Savage Sam," "Island of the Blue Dolphins," "Hetty, Her First Hundred Years," "The Bronze Bow," "Silver for General Washington," "The Wrinkle in Time," "The Yearling" and "The Phantom Tollbooth."
Back then, I remember meeting Scott O'Dell at a bigger library in the next town over. When he signed my copy of "Island of the Blue Dolphins," I told him I was going to grow up and be a writer someday. He said, "Good for you."
In 5th grade something bewildering happened. My teacher decided I was reading too many books. Can you imagine a teacher saying that these days? My parents were called in for a parent/teacher conference and I had to be there too. The teacher insisted that I read too many books, so that I daydreamed too much and therefore didn't spend enough time playing with the other kids. Huh? Was this actually a problem? To this day I fault that teacher for her reasoning.
I have been and always will be a dreamer. Put me on a desert island with absolutely no books and I'll still daydream. There are stories in my head and they'll never go away until I take my final breath. So my teacher's thinking that taking away my books would stop the daydreaming was ludicrous.
To make a long story short, my parents and teacher came to a compromise. By the way, no one listened to what I had to say about books. Anyway, for the rest of the school year I wouldn't be allowed to read any fiction, only non-fiction. This teacher, who loved science, decided that fiction was the culprit. Sheesh! What did she know?
So I just moved into another section of the library and read nonfiction. I read every biography, travel book, science book and adventure book that the library had to offer. Daniel Boone, Davy Crocket, Francis Marion the Swamp Fox, pioneers, cowboys and Indians were added to my favorites. Gee, I had better, more vivid, daydreams after that. I have to admit that I even read our classroom science text book from cover to cover too. So my love of history and science came about because of that teacher. Reluctantly, I had agreed to spend recess time running around the school grounds with the other kids. Funny thing, the other kids and I talked a lot about books when we weren't galloping around pretending to be wild horses.
That brings me to all the horse books I read. "Misty of Chincoteague," "Stormy, Misty's Foal," and all the other Marguerite Henry books. "Black Beauty" was another favorite. I was obsessed with horses at the time, so I read every fiction and non-fiction book I could find on horses. I even slept with a ceramic palomino pony on my pillow, but that's another story for a later time.
I think I was around nine or ten when I told the librarian that I'd read every book in the Children's section of the library. I was very distraught. Were there no more books? I remember that librarian's secretive smile as she led me to the Adult section and introduced me to a new treasure trove of books. Conrad Richter's Awakening Trilogy: "The Trees," "The Fields" and "The Town" were the first ones I read. Then it was on to every classic I could get my hands on. "The Last of the Mohicans" (one of my favorites to this day and which I've read many times), "Treasure Island" and "Robinson Crusoe." Jessamyn West's "The Friendly Persuasion" is one of my favorites from that time. I read so many books then, I could go on and on.
About that time I realized that my favorite Disney movies were actually taken from books. So I read Mary Stewart's "The Moon-Spinners," which is my number one favorite to this day. Then I read "That Darn Cat," "The Prince and the Pauper," "Kidnapped," "The Swiss Family Robinson," and so many others.
At fifteen I came down with mono and was extremely sick for several months. I missed two months of school and a teacher was sent to my house to tutor me. What a brave soul he must have been. About the only thing he really had to tutor me in was math. To this day I really dislike math, but that tutor made algebra seem fun for the only time in my life. Again, that's another story. However, I remember that the tutor and I talked a lot about books.
The really great part about being sick with mono was that I read every waking moment while propped up in bed. Primarily I read classics for those two whole months, because that's what my mom brought me to read. By then we had a little magazine/bookstore just around the block from us. So Mom would stop by there and buy me paperback books. I reread old favorites like "The Moon-Spinners" and "Far from the Madding Crowd," and ones I'd never read before, of which "The Portrait of a Lady," stands out as an all time favorite.
In high school I read all the required books: "A High Wind in Jamaica," "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter," "The Temple of Gold," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "The Scarlet Letter," "Great Expectations," "The Great Gatsby," "The Red Badge of Courage," "Frankenstein," "The Catcher in the Rye," "Daisy Miller," "Turn of the Screw," "Wuthering Heights," "Jane Eyre," "Hamlet" and "Romeo and Juliet," All were added to my favorites.
Outside of high school I read a lot of classics: "Pride and Prejudice," "The House of Mirth," "Lady Bovary," "The Age of Innocence" and more of Shakespeare (I received a BA in English Lit due to my love of Shakespeare). That's also when I read "Gone With the Wind" for the first of many times. Then I discovered James Michener, of which my favorites were "Hawaii" and "The Source." Other favorite books at that time were "The Thorn Birds," "Roots," "The Turnbulls," "Christy," "Anna Karenina" and "War and Peace." I'm sure I've left out a bunch of my favorite books from back then.
I graduated from high school at the age of sixteen, just a month short of my seventeenth birthday, and started college three days later. My college days brought about an even greater love of books. So I'll save that story for Part 2.