Friday, March 16, 2012

The First Book I Ever Read

Frankie here. I’m in Philadelphia for the next couple of days attending the Public Library Association annual conference. I’m serving as National President of Sisters in Crime this year, and we have a SinC panel on Friday afternoon. It should be interesting, but since it hasn’t happened yet, I’ll have to wait to write about it.

I’m mentioning it now because during our preparation for the panel, our moderator asked us to think about the first book that we read that made a difference in our lives.

I confess. I couldn’t remember. Nothing came to mind. The problem was I tried to start at the beginning. I tried to remember the first book I had ever read on my own – assuming that would have been the book that set me on my lifelong path as someone who reads, who must read, who feels anxiety when she has no book or at least a magazine close at hand.

But I couldn’t remember that first book or the second or what I checked out the day that I got my library card.

My parents did not read to me when I was a child. They were hard-working blue-collar folks. Neither of them had graduated from high school, barely finished grammar school. But they valued education and books and reading, so they made sure I always had access to books. And I had cousins who were teachers, at high schools and later at university level. So I had books in my world.

But I can’t remember the first book my parents bought me. I can’t remember the first book I read on my own.

Is it just me? Am I the only one with jumbled odds and ends of Dick and Jane and Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole and the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and DC comic books? Robert Frost -- I loved Frost’s two paths in the woods. And Poe’s raven and Emily Dickinson’s buzzing fly. I love animals. I thought I would become a vet, so I must have read animal stories. Peter Rabbit? The Wind in the Willows?

Those were the days when students still memorized speeches such as Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death!” (I’m a Virginian). Then there was Shakespeare. One play each year. The poetry and the speeches and the dramatic monologues are all jumbled up in my head with the books.

In short, I have no idea which book gave me the urge to keep reading. Maybe it wasn’t one book. Maybe it was the joy of reading that reinforced my urge to read.

I’ve always been fascinated by people who say they never read. When I hear this I wonder if it is because they didn’t grow up with books or with parents who valued literacy. Or was it because during their school years they were force-fed books about topics that bored them and once freed from school, they vowed never to open another book? Or, is it really, as some people will say, that they just don’t have the time to read? If they have spare time they’d rather spend it with their family and friends than with head buried in a book.

In truth, reading is an activity that can be isolating. A wonderful activity for shy, introverted children. But also one that keeps them from interacting with other people and perhaps reinforces their tendency to retreat into their own fantasy worlds.

But perhaps that is why some of us became writers when we grew up. And I like to think that at some point we all learned how to make small talk – at least about books.

At any rate, I do remember the book that I loved most as a teenager and checked out again and again from the library. The book was by an author named Agnes Sligh Turnbull. The Day Must Dawn, set on the frontier during the Revolutionary War era.

I really do need to track down a copy of that book and buy it. Then I’ll read it again on a Saturday evening, sitting up in bed with Starlight mints on the night stand. I’ll read beyond my bedtime, and hear in my memory my mother calling to me to turn off my light and go to sleep.

Will it be as much fun this time around? I can’t wait to see.



Charlotte Hinger said...

Actually, I remember this Frankie. It was Hoot Owl when I was in the first grade. I had finished the whatever and the teacher let us pick out a book to read on our own. When I did and discovered I was offered the chance to read a real story instead of stupid lines like "Spot has the ball." "See Jane chase the ball," I literally flipped.

Rick Blechta said...

Actually, Charlotte, over on Late Innings baseball blog I take part in, Spot having the ball and Jane chasing him is a pretty big deal.


Rick Blechta said...

Actually, Charlotte, over on Late Innings baseball blog I take part in, Spot having the ball and Jane chasing him is a pretty big deal.


Pathmanson said...

"Pricken" or Spotty in english, by the De Reys was the first book i read by myself at the age of seven. Enid Blyton's Mystery books and Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories started me off on mysteries at nine. When i found some grown-up detective stories and thrillers at home and at the local library i was lost forever. I read almost all the classics of the genre between the age of ten and fifteen. The one i will always remember, though, is "The Nine Tailors" by Dorothy Sayers. Read at ten at my fathers house one rainy summer day it was re-read twice a year, and that meant every time i was visiting. It still counts as one of the best mysteries of all time, at least in my mind. Asimov, another crime story lover, writing as Paul French, hooked me on one of my other favourite genres, Science Fiction, with the juvenile "David Starr, Space Hunter" that was in part a mystery, set on Mars...

cdb said...

I would have a hard time with this question too. I remember specific books/series that I loved but there was no one book. I would say that Harriet the Spy was the first book I specifically remember re-reading. But I was the kid who got a box of books each Christmas (my parents got me, they really got me) so the idea of pointing to 1 book as important is an almost impossible task.