Thursday, January 1, 2009

Firsts in One Bookish Little Life

By Nancy Horner, aka Bookfool

How, when and why does anyone become so addicted to books that she takes on the name “Bookfool”? First, I suppose, someone has to teach a little one to become a book fool by reading to her. Because my parents were both readers, I can only assume I was read to from a very young age. I don’t recall a time when books were not a part of my life. But, it’s difficult to pinpoint which book may have first captured my interest. I wrestled with my memory and came up with a few firsts. Here are some I recall -- possibly with accuracy and maybe a bit distorted by memory:

First book I remember my mother reading to me: Are You My Mother? By P. D. Eastman -- As an adult with a brand new baby, this was one of those books I absolutely had to have and rushed out to buy for my own child. Favorite part: “Oh, no!” said the baby bird. “You are not my mother. You are a scary snort!”

First book that was so darned special I had to buy it off eBay: Jiggers by Joy Muchmore Lacey -- The story of a cute little black and white puppy who becomes lost. I was a little afraid of eBay, so my husband politely bought me a copy of the book after I basically bounced around the room because I was so excited to see a cover of it on the internet. My mother had already informed me that she didn’t have “the foggiest idea” what became of my childhood copy. My eBay purchase was sent in a Ziploc bag for protection and I’ve left it that way, almost afraid to touch it, the book is so special.

First book I recall reading repeatedly: There were undoubtedly many books that I read repeatedly as a youngster, but the first book I recall reading so often that little bits of it became a part of my mode of speech was Rosalie: the Bird Market Turtle by Winifred Lubell. My mother did a raucous impression of Rosalie’s talking bird friend, Gaston, calling, “Rosalie! Where’s Rosalie?”

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett later became the first book that I read repeatedly on my own. It’s probably notable that it took me at least a couple of decades to convince myself it was okay to watch one of the movie adaptations. And, then, of course I was disappointed. Nothing matches up to the book, which is a wondrous story of courage and imagination.

First youthful genre obsession: The first series of books I recall reading was a set of biographies stocked by my hometown library. They were blue, as I remember it, with a silhouette of each historical figure on the cover, very simply designed. My favorites were the biographies of Ernie Pyle, Clara Barton and Lucretia Mott. Another obsession was cats. I read anything and everything cat-oriented, whether fiction or nonfiction. Unfortunately, I can visualize covers, but the only title I recall is Born Free by Joy Adamson.

First book I recall buying on my own: I remember two early book purchases. One was a total disaster. I adored the movie, “The Sound of Music” and bought a copy of the original book upon which the movie was based at a book sale that took place in my elementary school library. Unfortunately, my sister bought the same book for a Christmas gift and was unable to return it, once she found out I’d purchased my own copy. So she went ahead and wrapped it. That turned out to be a really awkward gift-opening moment. The other book I recall purchasing at a young age was a ten-cent library reject of African folk tales called The Cow-Tail Switch and other stories. It’s a mess, but I still have that book, somewhere.

First time I realized classics can be awesome: The year I climbed up onto my grandmother’s 4-poster bed and read a tiny, leather-bound miniature copy of Romeo and Juliet stands out in my mind. I never had much of an education in literature because journalism was allowed as a substitute for other English courses in my high school and then I took alternates in college, as well (Writing about Film, for example). When I was in my early twenties, I realized I’d read hardly anything at all that could be considered a “classic”, apart from those I sneaked off my sister’s shelf (notably, A Separate Peace by John Knowles and Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster). Fortunately for me, the first book I latched onto for my self-imposed foray into classics was Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier. I stayed up all night.

First published author I heard speak in person: Madeleine L’Engle. A Wrinkle in Time is one of my all-time childhood favorites, so I was thrilled when I heard L’Engle was going to speak at the Woodland Hills library branch in Tulsa. I remember feeling encouraged when she said the only time she didn’t write was during the years that she had “crawling babies” because I was big as a barn at that moment, pregnant with my first child and worried that I’d never find the time to write, again. Unfortunately, she ran out of copies of A Wrinkle in Time before I reached the head of the line (there was quite a crowd), so I have an autographed copy of A Wind in the Door.

There are plenty of other firsts I can think of. One that I shared with Heather is the first book I read to tatters -- my childhood book of fairy tales. Fairy tales were undoubtedly one of the first little crooked fingers beckoning this booklover into incurable bibliophilia. Fortunately, I really love being addicted and plan to continue to change those firsts into little bitty beginnings of heaping helpings of reading material I adore burying myself in each year. It’s good being a book fool.

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