Seems like a simple thing, just read every day. Not just the internet, or a newspaper- a book. A habit formed young and never broken. I grew up with two parents that read, so having books around was natural. Dad read mostly sporting magazines and the occasional non-fiction book. Mom was the mystery fan. Earl Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason didn’t just exist on TV, but between the pages of books. The very first book I remember was Donald Duck and the Witch. I made my parents read me that book every night – and I mean EVERY night. I had it memorized, so they didn’t dare skip a page. (They tried!)
So I asked my older brother what book – not the little kids books, but a REAL book, he remembers first reading. He vaguely recalled working away at the Hardy Boys, books on dinosaurs and such, but the first real books he remembers were Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe. For my sister-in law it’s The Happy Hollister’s at Pony Hill Farm (it had a PONY on the cover!) and Ken Ward in the Jungle, and then, like me, she was reading Nancy Drew. I still remember Mom proudly presenting me with The Secret of the Old Clock – and another generation of mystery fans was born. I moved on to Edgar Rice Borroughs’ John Carter of Mars series, while my brother went to Tarzan and his Pellucidar series. But we’d also grown addicted to TV series like Maverick, Bourbon Street Beat, 77 Sunset Strip, and a dozen other ‘must see’ shows.
That’s when it happened. The end of our world as we knew it! The TV died. It was a tragedy of such enormity and epic proportions, it was unthinkable. That’s why we owned TV tables!!!!!!! No 1940’s B mysteries on Saturday afternoon. Worse, no watching Star Trek, a series all my classmates talked about constantly! Our parents united, there would be no new TV. We should go out and play or read.
Wait a minute, since when was reading an issue? Sending us to our rooms as punishment was a waste of time. We had books. I’d read all of Agatha Christie by the 6th grade, when I also discovered ancient history and archeology thanks to Leonard Cottrell and The Lost Pharaohs, The Bull of Minos, and The Warrior Pharaohs. As alarming as it seems today, I actually READ Gods, Graves, and Scholars by C. W. Ceram in 7th grade – which cemented an interest in ancient Egyptian history and archaeology, particularly the 18th and 19th Dynasties. My brother began collecting ancient Greek and Roman coins and reading the history surrounding them.
Still with no TV. So one summer, at the ripe old age of 13, I decided to try my hand at cooking. Since Mom thought cakes were born in a box with the Duncan Hines label and Bisquick quick breads were advanced cooking, it became me and books in the kitchen. Mom headed for the sofa and another Perry Mason book rarely to be seen in the kitchen again. I added a lot of cookbooks to my shelves.
We went 2 years or more with no TV in the house, as unthinkable then as it is now. It did serve a purpose. Our TV addiction broken, my brother and I have been reading books our whole lives. Books were Christmas and birthday gifts. I got A Treasury of Great Recipes by Mary and Vincent Price (by my own request) for a gift one year and many books on Egyptian history and archeology. And all these years later, every Christmas, we still exchange books.
When he bought his modest 1827 house in the eastern Berkshires, the first thing my brother did was build custom cabinets in the living room with storage below for his TV and the top 2/3rds bookshelves. He actually collected and re-read all of the Hardy Boys, buying the books published in the 50’s and 60’s so the stories would not be updated. (Ebay can be a wonderful place) And like our mother, he’s a big fan of American history – he better be given where he lives! King Phillip’s War by Eric B Schlutz served as a guide to creating a scenic and historic drive through the Connecticut River Valley and Berkshires for his brass age car group (cars built before 1915 and driven on tours).
For many years I kept a lending library at work in a spare bookcase right outside my office. Anyone could borrow or take books and return them or add their own. Twice a year I’d clear the shelves and give the books to a veteran’s home. But when I left corporate America to work for myself, I quickly had the books piling up despite my best efforts at giving them away by the case to neighbors. Still I have too many books. Despite two huge floor to ceiling bookshelves packed solid with books, it’s beginning to look like some demented book hoarder lives here. Throwing away books, unless damaged beyond use, is simply not in my genes.
A house without books looks barren to me. If I were rich, it wouldn’t be a media room I’d add, it would be a library. Stacks of books are everywhere around me, some read and ready to ship out in swaps. Some collecting for shipping to my brother and sister-in-law. And way too many on Mt TBR. Favorite re-reads sit on my nightstands.
Books have brought more than knowledge and entertainment in my life, they lead to travel to see things for myself. My love of English and Egyptian lead me England and Scotland and a few years later to Egypt, Greece, and Turkey – a trip that remains a highlight of all my travels in the world. When I walk through museums, I know more about what I’m seeing and where it fits in history. When I visited new countries, I read up on them and their history and customs. They set us dreaming, or maybe just teach why you need to sautéed onion and garlic, or how to prepare a garden for planting or build a stacked stone wall. Practical or fantasy, they’re treasures and a love of reading is a great gift to give your kids – even if they do have hysterics about being, “THE ONLY KIDS WHO DON’T SEE STAR TREK!”
But favorite books, the ones we read again and again, and great books aren’t always the same thing. Lists of favorites that are also great reads are so hard to cull to a few, but here are some of mine:
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
The Reason Why: The Story of the Fatal Charge of the Light Brigade by Cecil Woodham-Smith
Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser
Ringworld by Larry Niven
And too many more to name