Tracing the roots of my love affair with books, I come back to my mother and father. Let me tell you about some of their tricks.
Those of you with children have surely had this shopping experience: “Mom, will you buy this for me?” It almost doesn’t matter what “this” is. Kids don’t want to go home empty-handed. My clever mom always said yes. But she said yes to books.
I recall going to a drug store late at night. I was probably eight or nine. Back then, drugstores had a toy aisle. I’m sure I found something I wanted. Instead, I walked out with a book on rockets. Years later, I still remember the book, because the excellent illustrations, and because it introduced me to physics—my first attempt (mostly without success) at working my way through concepts like trajectory and escape velocity.
Books for Christmas? Yes. Birthdays, too.
Both Mom and Dad read to us. A long car trip meant a new book. The one that really struck home was George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Again, I was fairly young—no more than nine. I was fascinated by this animal story with a moral.
The scene that hit me was when noble Boxer tried to break his way out of the horse van as the pigs shipped him off to the glue factory. Even now, when I hear the word “betrayal,” I think of poor Boxer.
I don’t know if Dad “abridged” the story as he read. Probably not, knowing him. I recall a mention of the Russian Revolution, but only in passing. When I was in junior high, I read the book myself and realized that Orwell was talking about totalitarianism, not barnyards. In high school, I read the book again and understood the allegorical elements. Snowball was Trotsky? Napoleon was Stalin? My mind boggled.
Finally, there were the trips to the library every Monday night with my father. I checked out seven books a week—one for each day. No subject was off-limit. When I was twelve, I started reading psychology texts. Who knows why? I went from subject to subject, like surfing the net. When we finished mining the home town library, we started making the long trip to the Cleveland Public Library—a dark, sprawling nightmare of a building that steered me from science fiction to horror (for which I am grateful).
Dad worked sixty-hour weeks, and time was dear. But so, apparently, were us kids.
Both Mom and Dad are gone now, but my love of books will continue. I used some of the same tricks with my own kids. Even now, everyone gets a book for Christmas…just me, passing on the addiction.