Saturday, April 01, 2006

I Stole A Book

I honestly don't know how I became a reader. In Grade One, teachers told my mother that I read many grades above my expected reading level, that I should advance a grade, etc., but she wasn't interested. I didn't own a book until I was twelve years old!

After I'd outgrown Little Golden Books--which she occasionally could be convinced to buy me at the local grocery store--my mother seemed to have lost interest in supplying me with reading material (or toys, come to think of it). So, when I read, it was possible because of the school library.

At any rate, at the age of twelve, my family and I were living in a high-rise apartment building on the bad side of town. I didn't have much supervision when my mother was working and I often visited my maternal grandmother who lived many floors above us. Stepping into her home really seemed like stepping into another world. Sometimes, I simply escaped to her apartment without permission.

She was an academic: she had received a few undergraduate degrees and a Master's before marrying my grandfather. Considering my mother's lack of education and disinclination towards reading, it was hard to believe that these two women were even related much less mother and daughter.

She had books: mostly hardcover, mostly vintage or antique. Often, I would kneel on the floor while browsing her bookshelves. She was not a woman of excess by any means but she owned many works of nonfiction and poetry.

I'll probably never know why I did it. I can only guess that, when I held a small, leather-bound collection of Wordsworth poetry, I felt as if my world was smaller than it had to be. I think I felt cheated. I think that this little book, in my hands, reminded me that life with my mother wasn't going to last forever, that there was something to which I might look forward.

I still have the book. That day, as I, surreptitiously, closed my grandmother's door behind me, two aspects of my life changed: there would be distance now between my grandmother and myself because she would detect my thievery and because I would deny it; importantly, I now owned a book.

I read it often, allowing my mind to wander around odes and verse about nature and love:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze
Of all the books that I own, it is in the best condition. Now, I own thousands of books (acquired legitimately) and my child's personal library contains many hundreds. I collect and I read or I accumulate and I read; sometimes it's both. I still borrow from the library, too, on a regular basis.

So, I may not know exactly how it is that I became one but I think that I can pinpoint the very moment at which I knew that I was, in fact, a reader.

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