Books Invented Me


Book Tunnel by Petr Kratochvil Books Reading Text

Book Tunnel, by Petr Kratochvil

After my parent’s divorce, my dad lived for awhile in an apartment that was just down the street from a store. I don’t remember what kind of store it was. It might have been anything — grocery, pharmacy, linens. For a five-year-old, this store had a single, bright attraction. Near the entrance, there was a spinning, metal rack of Little Golden Books.

If you are, like me, a child of the seventies, then Golden Books were a pillar of your education. They were easy to spot, spines bound in shiny, golden paper. They had titles like The Pokey Little Puppy, Scuffy the Tugboat, and The Little Red Hen. My favorite (then and now), was The Monster at the End of This Book. At 42, I still fall for Grover’s mock hysteria, his embarrassment on the final page. I’m sure there’s something of my character in those margins, if I spent the time to look.

But it wasn’t just Grover who engaged me. I loved them all, those golden spines, and my dad would let me choose a stack on each and every visit. Walking home, my arms loaded with a treasury of tales, I felt as rich as I could be.

So much comes from 26 letters, a meager handful of lines and slants and curves. It doesn’t seem like much. I wish I could remember the day, the moment, when those squiggly letters took the shape of a word, a sentence, a story. A revelation. It must have been my first-grade teacher, Miss Blossom, who taught me — the evidence is there, in a photograph, my face upturned to hers, star-struck and adoring.

Even now, after teaching both of my own children to read, the process remains a mystery to me, even something holy. I’ve seen it in the faces of my girls, the moment when they realize they are readers. It’s like a key clicking in a lock — the small, precise snap that changes everything.

Both my children have fallen down the rabbit hole with me, the eldest losing herself in chapter books while the youngest, only five, sounds out the rhythmic patterns, the vowels, hard and soft, and the blending up of consonants. Finding language, finding story, finding herself, a reader, in the pages.

As an adolescent, I once vowed to read every book in our large, light-strewn public library. All those countless pages followed me, even the ones that I didn’t read. They evoked a hunger to swallow language up, to build myself from stories. Through high school, college, and a PhD in English, as a mother spinning fairytales, I have immersed myself in language. Books invented me. They built me up like Lego blocks, a hodgepodge, multi-colored, bumpy structure, sharp along the edges.

If I became a writer, it was because the books themselves wrote the writing into me, a mobius strip identity. Stories, in their unfolding, wrote me into being, like a character invented. Books have been my map and path and wide, encompassing direction. I mined them for survival, for solace and courage and consolation. I memorized their contours, fallen into cadence.

I have a large imagination but, for all of it, I cannot comprehend who I would be without the things that I have read. So, thanks Dad, for those Little Golden Books. Thanks to Miss Blossom, Mrs. Willard, Ron Herzman, Carol Jacobs and all my other guides through language. Thanks to librarians in light-filled rooms lined with shelves. And thanks to the writers who pressed stories into the shape of pages. You have invented me, here and now, alive in the grace of words.

What’s your favorite story and how has it helped to shape you?

15 thoughts on “Books Invented Me

  1. Books invented me

    Me too.

    So many books have made me who I am today. I want to say Anne of Green Gables simply because it helped develop my imagination. Rather, it gave me permission to indulge my imagination. Just like Anne did.

    • I love Anne of Green Gables. My eight-year old daughter recently discovered her and I’m so glad! Anne is such a model of imagination and plucky bravery. A great heroine to invent us. Thanks.

  2. They kept me company through many a lonely grounded day after my rebellion had met with harsh punishment. So, to me, when I think of my childhood I associate breaking the rules with getting to read. Perhaps I needed those quiet days and just didn’t know how to take them without a lot of drama. Perhaps reading was another form of rebellion. Okay, you want to ground me, well, I won’t care, because I’ll just sit . . . and read.

    By the way, we received a collection of Little Golden Books for the holidays one year and I rediscovered The Saggy Baggy Elephant and The Little Red Hen and found some new treasures in I’m a Truck and Seven Little Postmen. But still, I’m with you, The Monster at the End of the Book is my all time favorite!

    • Reading was a type of escape for me as well, and maybe some rebellion too. They are such good company. And, you gotta love Grover.

  3. This reminded me so much of years I spent abroad — books were truly my best friends and my lifeline. I read everything I could get my hands on, including a lot of British literature because we lived in post-colonial Africa. But then for years after I read even more, absolutely constantly, so I know just what you mean. I can’t say I have a favorite story, because that’s often whatever I’m currently reading. These days, I read less than I used to (so many distractions) but when I start I almost can’t stop, just like the old days!

    • I always love hearing your growing-up stories. You had such an adventure-filled childhood. I can see how books would have become a steady, reliable companion and comfort during so much moving. Thanks for sharing this.

  4. As a child I was hungry for books and devoured them like there was no tomorrow. I was and still am a bit of a loner and I loved being able to lose myself between the pages. Somewhere along the way life got in the way and I don’t read as much as I’d like . . . maybe I just haven’t found the right books to hold my attention. Love this post and walk down memory lane. It brought back so many of my own childhood memories.

    • Thanks Kathryn. I love how you phrase your relationship to reading and books as both devouring them and being lost inside the pages. I can completely relate. That’s how I feel as well.

  5. Ah, this could be me. I associate books with certain times in my life–love everything about books, reading, etc. Also love Grover in that book! My kids love that one too.

    • Both my girls love Grover as well. It’s a flash of good memories every time I pick up that book. Never gets old.

  6. Lisa – from my earliest memories, I always had a book in hand. Every two weeks, like clockwork, I went with my dad to the local library to pick out the next three books. I read while doing my chores – my dusting effectiveness left much to be desired. When I ran out of books, I read our World Book Encyclopedia. I am continually grateful for the existence of public libraries – where the local librarians know me by name. Reading has always been and will forever be an important part of who I am.

  7. What a beautiful memory! As you know, I did not read much as a child (at least I don’t remember reading that much). However, now that I think about it, I believe that Marvel comics (I know that may sound lame–but there it is) have shaped my views and given me that optimistic personality that you have mentioned in other comments on your blog posts. I guess I like to think that someone or something will always save the day!

    • I love that!! Marvel comics characters are fabulous — and they do always save the day. Great memory.

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