Books are on my mind today in part because I sit in Steve’s living room surrounded by his floor to ceiling bookshelves. Handmade out of a dark wood, the shelves are asymmetric and stuffed with books, maps, correspondence and all sorts of object d’art from throughout his life. If you were to walk around that room — please try to avoid tripping over the books piled in various corners — and scan those bookshelves, you’d have a sense of who he is and the journey of his life.
The journey of one’s life is what comes across in the pages of Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings, a thin lovely little book based on a series of lectures she gave at Harvard University in the 1980′s. And that is the book next to me this morning which, along with Steve’s bookcase, makes me nostalgic about the place of books in my life. The passage currently lingering with me is where Welty describes how her parents sacrificed to buy her and her brothers books. I was reminded of my own parents who did the exact same thing for my brother and I.
Of course, not every book was bought. My father worked for the sanitation department and so on trash days he would find all sorts of things that people would throw out. He always brought home the books. Some things he kept separate from us kids like the Joy of Sex which my younger brother and I did eventually discover in a bureau drawer. After we were caught my parents placed that book high on top of the refrigerator with my dad chuckling and my mother hushing him. But all other books were fair game for viewing from onion-skinned bibles to old encyclopedias and modern biographies of movie stars.
I rarely remember my father picking up any of these books though he read the daily newspaper religiously. My mother read all the time. Together they encouraged our love of books and reading and so when our elementary school sent home a book order form for the Weekly Reader Book Club, my parents found the money to allow us to order a book. We must have selected more than one but the first book that comes to mind is Gus the Friendly Ghost. It was a small purple book, about a shy ghost who makes friends with a wily mouse in an empty house. My brother had me read that book to him many nights in our early years. It was his comfort food, especially the time after having a bad dream in which he got mad at me and pulled my head off! I crawled into bed beside him as he cried and read him the book. The whole time he patted my shoulder to make sure that I was there.
Anyway … that’s me and my early morning memories of books. What first books do you remember and why?