October 20, 2013

This Essential Nutrient Can’t be Found in Nature.

The written word is as vital to me as oxygen, good food and safe shelter. It is right and natural to share my sustenance with those that I love.

Recently, a co-worker lent me a book. I was having a hard day, and although I was not, strictly speaking, next on the list of borrowers, she thought it would cheer me up.

She told me that it had made her think of me, because it was about “someone who started out as one thing and ended up as something else.” Also, it had a very cute goat on the cover.

The book was as good a memoir as I have read in a long time, and I found myself laughing out loud as I read, crying a little, and mouthing the rich cadence of the Appalachian speech captured so well by the author. I wanted to know what it would sound like, so I started reading passages aloud to my husband. For reasons I will explain shortly, this seemed perfectly reasonable to me, but I was worried that I was annoying him, keeping him from his own reading, and his own thoughts.

When I stopped, one night, after a particularly funny passage, he allowed as how I could “read a little more out loud” if I felt like it. I knew, then, that I had truly married one of my own species.

I was raised by people who believed that books were essential nutrients and that without them, we might all die some slow and gruesome spiritual death. Like vampires hunting their prey through the Transylvanian woods, we sniffed out books wherever we went, making sure that we had a supply that would get us through any potential drought.

Travelling in Europe, we stocked up at the Penguin store in London before driving across France and Italy. My father still insists that I missed the entire Amalfi Coast because I refused to look up from my book. My mother packed an L.L.Bean tote bag (the biggest kind) in her suitcase so that it might be filled with books and packed in the back of our quirky rental Fiat.

We all traded back and forth. My parents both read Doctrow’s Ragtime, and then passed it on to me. I read a biography about DaVinci in preparation for the Uffizi, and shared it with both of them. My father and I shared the cold-blooded British mysteries we both enjoy, and my mother and I exchanged Barbara Pym and all of the “Lucia” novels.

We also read aloud frequently; my mother read entire books to my father as he drove on the endless, impersonal Autobahn, and we all shared the best morsels of our respective books.

The other summers,spent in a cabin in the woods of Maine, also required literary victualing. There were no book store within 50 miles of Perry, Maine, and the Peavey Memorial Library in Eastport was dear to us, but fairly limited in its offerings.

In preparation for months in the literary desert, we went to our own library at home and took out as many books as were permitted under the “vacation loan” policy.

This meant we could take them for the six weeks or two months of driving north and east, and keep them until we returned. My mother also sent a box of assorted paperbacks to herself at the Perry P.O., to arrive after we did.

Once we were settled, we had a fairly luxurious selection of books to read lying on the dock, floating in a boat, on a rainy day, or snuggled into our sleeping bags at night. We also had whatever we checked out of the library in Eastport (I read the Nancy Drew mysteries from start to finish every summer for five years), and the damp, slightly moldy books that previous renters had left in our cabin, including fiery religious tracts and Harold Robbins novels from which I learned some very interesting things.

We had no TV in Maine, and no telephone. At night, we sat on the ancient, sprung furniture near the blazing Franklin stove, and my parents read aloud before bed. They had always read to us, from Goodnight, Moon to E.B. White and Elizabeth Enright, but this was not that. This was not “reading to children,” it was “reading.”

My parents were not reading to us because we could not, or would not read to ourselves; it was bonding of the highest order. They were giving to us the thing they loved the most, and even as moody and hormonal teenagers we knew we were lucky, bound, and beloved.

Now that I know my husband is down with the whole reading aloud thing, I find myself culling the best bits of whatever I’m reading, and even choosing books based on their sharing potential.

The written word is as vital to me as oxygen, good food and safe shelter. It is right and natural to share my sustenance with those that I love.

I hope that you’ve had the exquisite pleasure of passing on the tenderest, funniest, and best morsels of a book to someone near and dear to you. If you haven’t, try this: turn off your TV, find yourself a tasty volume and bring your own family into the circle.

It is love made manifest, laughter shared, and joy that smooths the most ragged edges of modern life.


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Ed: Catherine Monkman

 {Photo: Wikimedia Commons.}

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