I devour the gift of words; I always have. As early as I can remember, my parents hauled us each week to the John McIntire Library and allowed us to pick out as many books as we could carry—and not one more. These were the days before reusable totes came back into fashion, and so it was up to my sister and I to use only our muscles to collect the stacks of books we loved. Sweet Pickles was a preschool favorite, and one of the first books I remember picking up. (Oh, what I would have given to have successfully persuaded my parents into buying the monthly Sweet Pickles Activity Bus package. It was a plastic bus-shaped tackle box full of learning activities and stickers. STICKERS! Unfortunately, my tightwad mother was in charge of finances and she wouldn’t deign to spend money unless absolutely necessary.) These books introduced my sister, Sarah, and I to peaceful conflict resolution and many idiosyncratic personalities we’d encounter growing up. Ramona Quimby tales were a fun frolic (and amusing to look back on now that I live in Beverly Cleary’s hometown), Babysitters Club books helped me figure out which personality I related to the most (I’m a Mary Anne/Mallory hybrid), and Sweet Valley Twins allowed me to validate that my own twin sister was (and still is) a full-on Jessica. I was relieved that someone else recognized that not all twins had to be perfect carbon copies of each other, inside and out.
Beginning in early elementary, Sarah and I participated in a program called Talented and Gifted (TAG) through the school system. We would meet up with other TAG students once a week and go through multiple kinds of learning activities outside of our regular classroom work. From what I understand now, the goal was to use creative and nontraditional methods to help us further expand our promising little brains. What I understood then was that it was a chance to hang out with some friends doing brain teasers and listening to our teacher, Mrs. Swingle, talk. One of her passions was books. “Books are our friends!” she would trill. If one of us dog-eared a page to mark our place or aimed a book to throw at a neighbor, she would call us out immediately. She relentlessly proclaimed how important it was for us to treat our books like we would treat any other friend. At this, I would guiltily smooth out the dog ear I had made on the page and search around for a bookmark…Mrs. Swingle missed nothing.
I logged thousands of pages in middle and high school (I have the Read-a-Thon logs to prove it!), and my literary tastes expanded. During my teen years, I loved the mystical and otherworldly stories from Christopher Pike that made me think about the universe in a more spiritual way (see Sati for the most memorable one). I tore through books like Stranger With My Face, about the fascinating idea of astral projection. I gobbled the words that spilled out. I needed these friends that tore me away from my everyday, in-the-box thinking.
Quarantine has reopened my eyes to hard copy books. I’ve never had the urge to pick up an eReader—those are for kids and Baby Boomers only, in my opinion—but listening to content is a different story. My commute went from driving an hour or more every day to the 15 seconds it takes to walk to the kitchen table. I hated driving to work, but I loved the opportunity to listen to audiobooks and podcasts.
Work, errands, responsibilities, they all take away precious reading time, but as an adult I still need my friends. Adapting to modern ways of reading for me has been full of resistance because I am an admitted book snob. In truth, I think it mostly boils down to being a writer. We writers are apt to smell our books, to touch the pages reverently, appreciate the sound and feel of each word. Life moves in cycles, however, and I won’t always be able to keep stacks of books around. Eventually, when I’m older, I’ll probably want one of those eReaders that I find so objectionable now.