Opening a book offers a passport to discovering new worlds. But over time, returning to cherished volumes feels more like a homecoming where fond friends greet us on every page. Reflecting on classic works and timeless tales, readers share the stories that have shaped their lives.
The oar dipped methodically into the water as my dad guided our canoe across the shimmering lake. Sunshine warmed my bare shoulders, and I listened in rapt attention while my mom read from the volume in her hands: “The birches in the hollow turned as golden as sunshine … .” The words mingled irresistibly with the gently lapping water and struck a chord deep within me. Although my brother, sister, and I were lined up rather unromantically in the canoe, ensconced in the bright orange life vests that had a way of chafing our chins, I was keenly aware that I was experiencing one of those perfect moments in life. I sensed at once its beauty and brevity; my sensitive little heart ached over the connection between the two. My mom closed the book when we finally reached the shore, and I was forever hooked: hooked on Anne of Green Gables, hooked on the romance of nature in the written word, hooked on the delights of the myriad books that, over the years, would follow in Anne’s wake.
My beloved mother guided me throughout my life, and her words of wisdom resonate each time I select a book to read from the library of her treasures from the 1920s and 1930s. “Don’t ever give your books away—especially your schoolbooks, as they are treasures that you will look to throughout your life,” she told me when I was a teenager. How true! The childhood volumes that she gave me on my birthday and at Christmas are lovingly displayed in a special shelf in my home, and now, decades later, that connection to my younger self is as comforting as my mother’s words. Her books will stay with me; their value is eternal, and the memories are priceless.
Blue Island, Illinois
While others bemoan stormy days with sleet and snow turning our worlds upside down and confining us to our homes, I relish these days. I begin them with a leisurely breakfast while I watch the world turn white and magical. Hopefully, I’m in the middle of a wonderful novel (think Jan Karon, Michael Connelly, Charles Dickens, Harlan Coben, Scott Turow, Nicholas Sparks, Edgar Allen Poe). And, if not, I begin a new novel with anticipation!
In front of a fire—necessary on a wintry day—and with a pot of tea in arm’s reach, I turn to Page 1 and I’m off, whether to foreign countries, on mysterious searches, among humorous witticisms, or amid pastoral delights! And if I’m lucky enough to have my 8-year-old grandson visiting, I hand him a collection of treasured books saved from his father’s childhood. And he quietly sits by the fire with Grandma, stopping only to ask for help sounding out an unfamiliar word—or maybe hoping for an extra marshmallow for his hot chocolate!
Although my library overflows with a multitude of volumes, from gardening and health guides to cookbooks, educational books of all sorts, and children’s books galore, works of classical fiction are still my favorite. Many treasures are copies I have held onto from my youth. Others are cherished finds from book sales. I especially love old editions that have someone’s name and a date inside—or even better, a personal note when the book was given as a gift. I can’t help but wonder who the recipient was, if she loved the volume as much as I do, and what happened to her. Obtaining such a prized keepsake is like holding a bit of history in your hands. My books are really like part of my family, which might explain why I have so many and have such a hard time parting with them!
As an only child, I spent a great deal of time alone in my room and lost in the world of story. My mother checked in on me now and again, but I was put out by such interruptions, which pulled me away from survival on a remote island (my bed) or wandering through the Midwest in a pioneer wagon (also my bed). My favorite place to lose myself in was the book The Secret Garden. I identified with Mary, who wandered around on her own and cherished her time in the hidden enclave that came alive with blooms and small animals. She created her own world and invited a few people in. That is still me. While I formed friendships throughout my life, I still have those friends I invited in as a child, and now our children play together. I still read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic tale, but I chase more than the dream of Mary’s sanctuary now. I want to comfort my child the way Martha and Dickon’s mother did through her homemade cottage bread and the frothy milk snacks she packed for them. I want my child to feel nurtured while I allow him the freedom and space to dream.
For more readers’ thoughts on the treasures to be found in books, see “Library of Dreams” on page 11 of the March/April 2019 issue.