by Mary S. (kilchurn)
I honestly can’t remember the first book I encountered. Ask my mother though, and she’ll tell you that she read “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to me every night for over a year. That’s probably why now, over 35 years later, I can recite that poem by heart. According to mom, I made her give Peter Rabbit the same treatment (although I only remember parts of that story, not word for word). I know that I read or had read to me, many, many books during my toddler years. I loved the time spent with my grandmother as she read Little Black Sambo to me (over and over).
It wasn’t until I turned 8 that books took on a new life for me. My next door neighbor got a horse and like all 8 year old little girls, I was enthralled. I begged my mother endlessly for a horse of my own. After what I am sure was an exhausting session of my outlining why I deserved a horse, my mother wisely (or so she thought) told me I could have a horse after I turned 10 and after I had learned everything there was to know about them.
Thus began the “reading for a reward” phase of my life. I ended up going to the one place in my small town where I could find information. The library. I cannot tell you how much time I spent in the Mary Willis Library Non-Fiction section (636.1 to be exact – the HORSE section). I know for a fact that I checked out some of those books so many times that the back and front of many of the book’s checkout cards had my name all over both sides. I should probably also mention that our World Book Encyclopedia H volume opens to the Horse article when you pick it up.
In reading all of those horse books, I stumbled upon young adult “horse” fiction and the works of Walter Farley. I read The Black Stallion first and Alec Ramsey became my hero – I wanted so badly to be him. Not only did he get to travel, but he also got to keep the horse.
Marguerite Henry introduced me to Misty of Chincoteague. The story of Paul and Maureen Beebee, who desperately wanted to own Phantom one of Assateague’s illusive mares resonated with me – I wanted a horse almost more than my next breath. So much so that when my mother and sister and I visited Chincoteague during Pony Penning, I used all of my allowance to enter a drawing to win one of the foals, I was going to name her Misty.
These stories of children and their bonds with horses gave me hope that one day I would have a horse of my own. I still have my original copy of Farley’s Man O’ War, one of the few “keeper” books from my childhood. Stormy, Misty’s Foal, Sea Star: The Orphan of Chincoteague, King of the Wind, and San Domingo: The Medicine Hat Stallion also made their way into my Marguerite Henry collection.
Later, I got my first job at the library that had become my horse haven. One of my tasks was re-shelving books that had been returned. During the daily routine of re-shelving books, I noticed “horse” books in the grown-up section of the library. (Keep in mind that to me at that time a “horse” book had a horse picture on it. Bluegrass by Borden Deal and Valley of the Horses by Jean Auel taunted me from the upper shelves. Much to my chagrin, my mother felt that the content was too grown up for me and I was told I couldn’t read those until I was older. Like most kids, I disobeyed and ended up sneaking reads of Bluegrass during downtime at the library. I learned a lot about adult relationships from that book as well as a lot about the horse racing business.
During the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, I told my mother that I wanted to read Valley of the Horses. I remember well the day I went to the big city library to check it out. That night I sat curled up in my rocking chair and reading until the sun came up. I saw myself in Ayla. Both of us had been separated from the only life we’d ever known. Her story inspired me to accept our move from the small town where I grew up to the big city of Atlanta. Her story has become a touchstone for me and even today reminds me that no matter how difficult things become, that I can persevere.
In college, I found romance novels. I read Johanna Lindsey almost exclusively until my junior year. The romantic tales brought comfort to me when I was hundreds of miles from home. They were a great escape from the realities of Composition 101 and British Literature 102.
After moving back to Atlanta, I became infatuated with my family history; my Scottish heritage lead me to the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Like so many other readers, I fell in love with Jamie and Claire.
Later, I was sucked in by Robert Jordan’s world building in his Wheel of Time series. I had never thought to try fantasy before, but on a friend’s recommendation I bought the first book in the series, The Eye of the World, in 1998. It sat on my shelf for over two years until we entered the “time without television”. I picked it up and didn’t come up for air until I was completely caught up with the series.
Nowadays, I read fiction for pure pleasure and escapism. JD Robb’s futuristic homicide detective, Eve Dallas is one of my favorite characters. I love how a little part of her changes in every book and sometimes I wish that we all could make that one step forward to become better people.
JR Ward’s stunning vampires in her Black Dagger Brotherhood series are my ultimate fantasy. I never thought I’d want to live in a world inhabited by the undead, but if Caldwell, New York were real, I’d happily be a resident.
I guess what I am saying is that I can’t remember every being without books. From an early age they were and have remained an integral part of my life. While I started with every child’s dream of Christmas every day, my reading tastes have evolved over the years; but that is the wonderful thing about books – there are millions of them – with millions of different things to read about.
P.S. I did get a horse when I was 12. We had 5 wonderful years together before I left for college.