On Reading.

I love books. The way they look on my shelves, the way they destroy my sleep pattern, the way they educate, infuriate and delight me. I love collecting them, sharing them, borrowing them, and (of course) reading them.

I don’t remember the first book I read, although there is a video of me reading one aloud at around age five. My mother, a reader, was impressed enough to film the whole thing; it’s very boring. It would have been more entertaining to watch my childhood best friend and I play-acting The Littles series by building forts (we play-acted everything by building forts). Around that same time, my mother the reader took me out of school, allowed me to wear my best yellow dress, and drove me to The Red Balloon Bookshop to meet Barbara Cooney, the author and illustrator of many of my favorite children’s books, including Miss Rumphius.

I don’t remember as much of the day as I’d like. Mainly I remember Barbara Cooney was very old, around 75 to my 7 years, and had very white hair. And she was nice; so nice that when I wrote to her a few months later, asking if she remembered “the girl in the yellow dress,” she wrote back and assured me she did.  We wrote back and forth for a few years, but unfortunately I didn’t keep it up and we lost touch by the time she passed away. I regret it. I still have that first card, framed now, on my desk.

A few years after I met Barbara Cooney, I met my favorite book in all the world. I was maybe nine, and climbing the furniture in our living room in search of a set of dirty playing cards my brother told me about (my dad’s one contribution to our book shelf, no doubt). I found the cards disguised as a book, wedged next to a dingy, yellowed paperback with a title I recognized – The Princess Bride. I had seen the movie but until then, I didn’t know it had been a real book, and I didn’t take it off the shelf until three years later. And I never put it back.

I have three copies of The Princess Bride now, and if I needed to evacuate my apartment in a hurry I’d still take all three of them.  That first, disintegrating copy, the front cover long missing and the first page – the one that starts “This is my favorite book in all the world, but I have never read it” – has fallen off too, but that I’ve saved in a frame.  The second, a more recent hardcover, the version I read year after year without fear of it falling apart. And the third, a 1973 hardcover signed “To Rachel, As You Wish, William Goldman” – a gift from (who else) my mother, the reader. After life itself and the love of reading, this is probably the best gift she’s ever given me.

In college I became an English major because I loved reading, I loved writing, and also because a nun told me to. I read some classics, like The Brothers Karamazov, The Master and Margarita, Lolita, and some others that weren’t written by Russians, I’m sure. I name those three because I loved them, and recognize their greatness, but I will likely never re-read them. I’m sorry great literature of the past and the future, the top spot in my heart has already been taken. But please, keep trying. There are other little girls out there still in search of their Favorite.

The Princess Bride marked the first time I realized a good story could break the rules (and that’s really what that book is about to me – storytelling). But I’ve gone on long enough about that. I didn’t even intend to mention my Favorite when I started writing this. I just wanted to say how much I love a good story, a good book, because I’ve only just come out of a long period of not reading by finishing another rule-breaking story. It’s not a perfect series, it took me several years to get through all of it, and parts of it made me want to smack Stephen King upside the head, but The Dark Tower series took me on a journey.

I mean, I really hated some of it. I don’t think I ever laughed, but man, did I sob during those last few hundred pages. I love crying at books. I never knew what was going to happen, and frankly I could not explain what it was about even if you had also just finished reading it. As far as books about stories go, these seven (okay, there are eight now – the man actually wrote another one in the series in the time it took me to read the seventh) make up a dense journey full of broken rules. They’re still not my Favorite and never will be, but they are my brother’s, and that’s as good an accomplishment as any for Sai King.

I guess what I’m really saying here is I’ve finished another book. What should I read next?

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8 responses

  1. P. D. James
    P. J. Tracy (read in order)
    Barbara Kingsolver (especially Prodigal Summer)
    Elizabeth George
    Deborah Crombie

    Oddly, all are women and most are American despite their subjects.

    And a series for Nora: ≤i>Dragonfly in Amber is the 2nd book, but I forget the title of the 1st and the author…no wait, it’s Diana Gabaldon. Time travel, bodice ripping, and science.

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