Tuesday, January 25, 2011

For the Love of Books

I don't know when my obsession with stories began, probably with the gripping plot of the first book I was allowed to bring home from kindergarten, TIN CAN SAM, but it was in full force by the time I reached middle school.

I remember spending most lunches hunched over the circular tables that were scattered around the cafeteria. If I try hard, I can bring to mind the distinct smell of my daily cup-o-noodle soup, but what I recall most clearly is the weight of a thick book in my hands and the way everything else faded into the background. It didn't end when lunch was over, either, as I can produce copies of several progress reports that cite my biggest shortcoming as a student as "reading novels during class."

Is there anything like being that lost in a good book? What is it about those story-worlds that can so captivate a reader? Even after devouring the final page, some of the best reads left me longing for more. A few rather embarrassing examples:

1. While reading THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy for the first time, I insisted on wearing an old key ring on a chain around my neck for days on end. This resulted in an unpleasant rash, which I suppose was fitting for my misguided desire to bear the One Ring.

2. I paid the $25 lost book fee to keep the library copy of the out-of-print SOLO's JOURNEY (Hey! This was before the internet's magic!). Then, I proceeded to grow out my fingernails and file them to little points, so I could be more feline.

3. In other cat-book confessions, I greeted my cat with phrases from the dog-eared glossary in my copy of TAILCHASER'S SONG and did my level best to find a way to stalk about on all fours comfortably.

4. My long-suffering parents endured being called "Ma" and "Pa" for several weeks after I finished LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. And they let me bake lots of biscuits, which somehow felt prairie-ish to me.

5. I wore long skirts, did my hair "up", and spent many hours prowling the suburban landscape looking for inspiration and pretending to belong in ANNE OF GREEN GABLES.

What about you? What books grab hold of your imagination like that? Make a clean confession of it. We already know anyone reading this blog is a book groupie. No need to be shy! What embarrassing things did you do to be part of a story-world?


  1. Ah, the Little House books...one winter my friend and I thought we'd make the maple syrup candy treat described in one of the books - hot syrup poured over snow which hardened into candy.
    We had just put the pan of maple syrup on the stove when the electricity went out. So we went upstairs to read and forgot all about it. We ignored our barking-like-crazy dog. Until we smelled something burning. Smoke filled the downstairs, pan was burned to a crisp. We opened every window and frantically aired the house. My mom never said anything when she came home to a freezing house. :)

  2. HAHAHA, Deb! Sounds like something Laura would do. ;) And now I really want to try that. Not the burning the pan part, but the maple-syrup goodness.

  3. Nothing quite as wholesome as maple syrrup here...

    After reading Shakespeare's play Macbeth (in junior high, I think), I invited my two best friends over to my house. We put three bar stools in a circle in the family room, hopped upon on them (each with our copy of the "three witches" scene), and read the lines with great dramatic flair.

  4. I too loved Anne of Green Gables! I think we mentioned our mutual love of this book once before! :)

    I always loved books with talking animals when I was a kid (clearly still do!!). From reading these books, I really used to think our pets could talk and when we left them alone they had wild conversations with one another! Hmmm...maybe I still think that! :)

    Really great post. I bet you still wear that chain sometimes! ;)


  5. Deb, that would have called for a switching from Pa in the Little House world. There was a lot of corporal punishment in those books, though Pa would always cuddle Laura afterwards. :)

  6. Penny Mailliard1/26/11, 9:47 PM

    Inspiring post about the joy of reading. I may just share this with my 5th grade class tomorrow. They've been whiny lately!

  7. Scotti - I can only imagine what your parents thought if they walked in on that!

    Hilary - I am with you on the animal books, too. I remember seriously contemplating setting my cat "free" so she could go be with her tribe. Ha!

    Timothy - I recently reread the first Little House book with my son. It was hard to resist the urge to edit out some of the perspectives - ha!

    Penny - Thanks! I taught 5th grade for one year and loved it. Such a fun season of their life, but sometimes the day in and day out of it was really challenging. Maybe there's a fun book they can get into to escape the January doldrums...maybe one of our Mayhem authors' books? ;)

  8. Great stories! I most remember looking through old books any time I could to see if there were treasure maps in them. I also hoped to find portals to other places every time I played in the woods. To this day, I really want to live in a old house and find a hidden room or a secret passage. They all have them, right?

  9. I never pretended to be characters in the books, but late at night, I would lie in bed and continue the stories in my head. Sort of the continuing adventures of the latest book that I read. And if I was in the middle of the book, I would make up my own ending. Sometimes, I was disappointed by the actual ending. To this day, I read books again and think to myself, I didn't think that happened. Apparently, I still like my own endings better.

    My mother once took my books away from me for a month because I was caught reading another book inside my history book. My logic was that I'd already read my history book all the way through before school ever started. Why should I read again? Mrs. Rogers and my mother did not agree. Most miserable month of my life. My mom insists it was only a week, but I swear it was a month.

  10. Dee - Yes! I would love to visit one of THOSE houses.

    Vikki - Ha! Readers prerogative, I guess. And I know my parents might deny it, but the WORST punishment they could ever give me was to take away the book I was reading. Even an afternoon without it felt like a MONTH!

  11. I love the idea of you wearing an old key around your neck as your version of being the ring-bearer! What a riot.

    The first book that really truly gripped me was the Goldenbook called Mister Dog (one Crispin's Crispian, aka the dog who belonged to himself). How entrancing to imagine an independent dog sucking the marrow from life--and from a t-bone.

    But that is all beside the point. The stories that consumed my imagination were: From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (4th grade), Robinson Crusoe (5th grade), and Jurassic Park (6th grade). Looking back, I think it was the onset of tween independence that caused me to think, "It would be RAD to live in a museum without my parents!" or "I would freakin' RULE that island if I were alone on it!" or "Yeah, man, the dinosaurs totally ATE all those stupid adults while the kids made friends with them and totally rode around the island on them!" Okay, so that last bit didn't actually happen in Jurassic Park, but in my mind it would have if I had been there.

    Of course, for all my budding angst, I loved my parents, and, well, I couldn't buy any books without them. In the end I decided not to run away to the museum, not to escape to an island, and not to feed my folks to the dinosaurs--should I ever find any. So far I'm pleased with the outcome of that decision. But I haven't come across any dinosaurs, so the decision hasn't been fully lived out yet. I'll keep you posted.

    Thanks for this post, by the way. It brought back some fun memories and helped me realized I wasn't as weird as I thought. ;)

  12. Oh, Anne. I was more of an "Emily" gal, go figure. But, any stoic orphan would do. Little Women was another biggie for me. Anytime I was feeling dramatic or in need of an emotional release, I'd read the part where Beth dies (spoiler!). Cynthia Voigt (Dicey's Song, A Solitary Blue), The Yearling, Daddy Longlegs. Ahh. Good times.

    My guilty pleasures were the Babysitter Club books, but even as a ten year old I had the wherewithal to hide my reading of such trash.

    PS - I also got punished for reading too much. I had to (gasp) GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY. Mean parents.

  13. I can't remember an example from childhood, but I planted an herb garden after reading Year of Wonders: A story about the Plague. The boys asked our real estate agent for a house with a secret door to their playroom. She told Kelly she'd work on that.

  14. Aaron - I'm sure your folks will be glad to hear your final resolutions. Ha!

    Emily - Oooh, I forgot about Little Women. And did you know that they made a TV version of the Emily books? I've been working my way though it - I was skeptical at first, but, in the end, I think they've done a great job of capturing the feel of Montgomery's writing. And ditto on the Babysitter Club and Sweet Vally High. Oh, did I just confess I actually read those? Oops.

    Patty - Ha! Every child's dream to have a secret door somewhere. And I'm going to have to go look up Year of Wonders. The title sounds kind of ominous...


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