A colleague cross-stitched a tiny pillow for me back in the 1990s when I was an acquisitions editor at Mosby, a health-science publishing house in St. Louis. At the time, my job was to commission renowned physicians to write medical reference books, while I managed the revisions of a long list of titles. The pillow said, appropriately, “So many books . . . so little time” (Thank you, Ellen).
How fitting the words still are today. Books fill practically every nook and cranny of my home: hardbacks given to me for my birthday, paperbacks gifted by author friends, soft- and hardcovers found at Gainesville’s Friends of the Library book sale, best sellers shipped from Amazon, rare books ordered from AbeBooks, new publications purchased from guest speakers at programs sponsored by the Writers Alliance of Gainesville (WAG), and books checked out at the library. I reserved The Liars Club ten days ago and picked it up last Thursday. Back at home, I read and read until I was halfway through . . . the introduction. But I’m determined to finish it, even if I have to extend the return due date.
I have lots of catching up to do where literature is concerned. I started out way behind most readers. As a youngster, eighteen miles separated our home from the nearest library, and for several years, our family owned no vehicle. Granted, we did have our own home library of nine books: my dad’s high school world history book, a storybook that contained tales like “The Three Little Pigs,” the Sears and Roebuck catalog, Little Women, five copies of the Holy Bible (Dad’s thumb-indexed King James version was tattered and torn while mine looked brand new).
At the age of eight, I made the mistake of trying to read my Bible as well as Little Women. I could understand neither, and that experience turned me off reading altogether. On the other hand, my sister, closest in age to me, loved to read. She had her nose stuck in a book every time I wanted to play hopscotch or jacks.
For book reports in school, I read those on the teacher’s list. One, I could have done without: The Scarlet Letter. But I enjoyed Robinson Crusoe for the character’s resourcefulness, and I couldn’t put down Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. Finally, Gone With the Wind totally turned me on to reading. I fell in love with the tall, dark, and handsome Rhett, who uttered those famous words, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
After that, I tried to get my hands on a copy of Peyton Place, forbidden reading at the time, and Ruby McCollum: Woman in the Suwannee County Jail, by William Bradford Huie. The latter put my home town of Live Oak on the map, and not in a good way. The book describes why Ruby McCollum, a rich black woman, murdered our family doctor. Alas, the state of Florida banned the book for being “too racially charged.” I waited over fifty years to read the book after finding a copy on AbeBooks.
In college, one of my French professors said A Tale of Two Cities was the best book he’d ever read. I bought a used paperback and started reading, but I found it difficult to get into. I probably read “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . ” a dozen times before I read much farther. I did finally make it to the end, and the book was certainly worth the read. But I enjoyed more the required reading that semester of Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince.
In adulthood, I eventually read and understood Little Women. And I absolutely adored Jane Eyre. Of the classics read thus far, my least favorite is one everyone said I would love! Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I cannot imagine a woman caring more for a man who isn’t her husband than she does for her own child. I thought the book would never end, the same feeling I had while reading The DaVinci Code, as well as Gone Girl.
Although I am hard pressed to recall the plot of a book a year after I read it, a few have had a lasting effect on me, especially those that focus on childhood: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Secret Life of Bees, The Life of Pi, A Boy’s Life, Growing Up, and perhaps my all-time favorite—the one that made me attempt to write about my own childhood—Angela’s Ashes (recommended by Bob, another much-admired Mosby colleague). More recently, I enjoyed three books by fellow WAG members: Cassie Selleck’s The Pecan Man, Art Crummer’s Wrestling God and Lee Phillips’ Child of the Land.
Last year, my husband and I downsized, and I forced myself to part with almost 300 books, telling myself I could check them out of the library when I had time to read them. And now we are moving again. Should let go of another 300? That might reduce the number enough that I could line the rest up neatly on a shelf, where I could at least read their spines.