A few months ago, we opened up storage bins at my parents’ home, looking for old Golden books for the tinies, and the keepsake clothes my mum had held onto from our childhood, particularly an old Minnie Mouse nightie that my mother had made for me many Christmases ago. (We found the nightie, Anne promptly put it on, we discovered it was a bit too small for her tall frame already, but she wore it all winter anyway, nighties are good that way. My little red-haired niece wears our old frocks for birthday parties and it makes me happy every time I see her in the dresses that I remember my own small sister wearing 30 years ago.)
Then, in the midst of my mother’s teary remembrances, in our laughter, and storytelling, our Do-You-Remember tales, I found a tattered book, tucked into the folds. Quick as a flash, I snatched it out of the box and put it in my purse.
It’s falling apart, this book. Nothing special, just a cheap paperback from the 1965 run of Scholastic book services, it’s my copy of Helen Keller’s Teacher by Margaret Davidson. Inside the cover, my mother wrote my name: Sarah Styles Rm 5, because I took it to school for show and tell, she didn’t want to risk someone re-shelving it in the library, she knew I loved it.
Because, you see, this was the first book that I read, cover to cover. It was the first book that I read without care for food or water or playtime or other people. It’s the first book that gave me that distinct and addictive coming-up-for-air feeling when I finished it, closed it, looked up around me, that feeling of emerging after being submerged in a good book. Hearing a noise, I looked up, blinking around the spare room, perched in that uncomfortable old car seat, and where am I again? That’s when my mum snapped this photo.
Annie Sullivan became a friend, I loved her. I had never known anything of history or “the old days” before this book, now I realised with a start that it was all real, and people had lives, and their lives were very, very different from my own, and now I had experienced it all through a story.
Stories still do this to me.
This was the book that lead me to Anne of Green Gables, to Emily of New Moon, to Little Women. This book opened me up to The Secret Garden, The Little Princess, Little House on the Prairie, even to that mild-mannered Grandma’s Attic series. This worn-out book, devoid of awards or fables or distinctions, is the book that made me a reader.
I might frame it.
Almost every reader of fiction that I know has a book experience like this. The ones that aren’t readers-for-the-love-of-it didn’t have a day, as a child, when they lost track of time and just read and read and read. Sometimes it’s a book that no one remembers, like mine, or it’s a classic, other times it’s The Baby-sitter’s Club. Either way, there was a day, when you read and read and read, and when you finished, you had emerged.
What book turned you into a reader?