Sunday, August 31, 2014

Reading Begins at Home

Books from my Parents' Library

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! -- When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”   ― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Before I was born and continuing after I arrived along with my sister (two years later) my parents had a small library in the home where we were raised.  This library consisted of  bookshelves that spread along one wall of our living room;  shelves that were filled with books from my earliest memory.  These books formed a not insignificant part of my reading from my earliest days - they were the source of such early reads as the Tales of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and more.  As I grew older and read more I remember my first encounters with Treasure Island and Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson.  I became a life-long fan of Stevenson's writing, but above all I still keep and cherish an age-worn copy of  A Child's Garden of Verses because  it was one of my mother's books from when she was a very young girl.   It was from those shelves that I experienced my first taste of horror and speculative fiction with Edgar Allan Poe and dipped my toe into the world of Dante whom I do not claim to have understood on my first encounter.   What I could understand a bit better was the development of Jane Eyre from her terrible days in boarding school to her romantic encounters with Mr. Rochester, or Carol Kennicott and the events on Main Street depicted by Sinclair Lewis.  Along the reading way I acquired my own bookshelves in my bedroom.  It was here I began my own collection of classics like Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Twain,  The Jungle Books of Kipling,  and a collection of biographies of scientists and inventors like Michael Faraday, George Washington Carver, and Thomas Edison.
Later in my teen years I opened a tome that changed my life, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand whose heroic architect, Howard Roark, was among the heroes that I admired in my reading.  Heroes like Roark included Edmond Dantes from The Count of Monte Cristo.   Dumas' novel was a book I read as part of my school reading which augmented that program of reading that already had a sturdy foundation built at home.  There were other books for school including Willa Cather's My Antonia, Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days,  and the wonderful tale of immigrants, Giants in the Earth by O. E. Rolvaag.  These and many more as my reading for school expanded in high school and University.

My sister and I both spent many hours at the local library, The Matheson Memorial Library, in our home town.  It was there that we encountered many other authors and books that we enjoyed reading.  I first met Philip Carey on those shelves as Somerset Maugham's tale Of Human Bondage mesmerized me much as Jane Eyre had some years earlier.  The library books were a luxury that we could afford because they were free for us to read and make our own.  This was all part of a reading life that began in the home and did not stop, but continued during our school years as an independent and important part of our lives.  With all of our reading, in school, in the library, in the park and around town, and the reading that continues to this day, both my Sister and I continue to live in homes that are filled with books.  Because our love of reading had its start in the home of our parents with their library of books that they read and cherished as well.


Brian Joseph said...

This is a great posy James.

I had similar experiences growing up with both my parents books and library books. IUn fortunately, with a few exceptions I did not start out with the classics until a little latter but read a lot of the better popular literature as well as science fiction.

James said...

Sounds like you can appreciate my memories from your own experience. I referred to some of the books that stood out in my memory, but science fiction (beyond Verne) was also a substantial part of my recreational reading during my teens and beyond. This was in part due to the influence of my father who read science fiction while my mother was more of a connoisseur of mysteries.
There are enough memories there for another short essay, but two stand out from my favorite author, A. E. Van Vogt: The World of Null-A and The Voyage of the Space Beagle.