When I was six years old, a young woman with a briefcase came into my home and spoke to my parents over a cup of coffee. And from her briefcase, she laid out on our small kitchen table, glossy brochures. As she spoke, my parents nodded, enthusiastic, calling whatever they were about to do, an “investment.” My father wrote out a cheque and a week later the woman came back with boxes. These boxes changed my life.
My father opened up the packages and in sequential order, placed the beautifully binded encyclopedias on our bookcase. There was a set from A to Z, two separate dictionaries, and an index. My father read each volume from cover to cover until he completed the set.
The other set, the Childcraft Encyclopedia, was dedicated to me and I was encouraged to read as my father did, each volume to my liking.
So I did.
It was with awe that I sat in my room discovering the secrets within the pages of the book I had opened. It was with each word that I grew powerful. I could finally translate what the letters meant. I could pronounce with a little hesitation, new words that were heavy, but playful in my mouth. Slowly, the sentences became verses. The verses soon became paragraphs. And the paragraphs into chapters. And at the end of each story, I was filled with a knowledge of something fantastic—so imaginative, yet real, it comforted me more than the world I lived in. Books had become my playground, my solace, my secret friends.
While other children complained when prompted to read in school, I secretly looked forward to it. I did my homework because I had to. I read my books because I loved to.
My school librarian was my heroine. And when the annual Scholastic Book Fair came around, I was ready and eager in the front of the line with my pencil in hand. My family couldn’t really afford books, so I knew my choices were limited. I would have to be frugal, but wise. As I searched the tables, I found a book with a picture of a girl, a spider, and a pig.
At home my mother asked me how the Book Fair went and if I found anything that I liked. I was shy about my choice, eager to own it, unsure if my mother or father would agree to buy it, guilty that it might cost them more than they could really afford.
I pulled my Scholastic order form out of my hand-sewn knapsack and thrust it out to my mother in hope my urgency would be expressed in that one act.
“‘Charlotte’s Web’ by E.B. White…that looks like a good one. Let’s go and see what your father thinks.”
My encyclopedia-reading father who routinely and adamantly sat me down at the dining table to write out my ABC’s everyday would surely be my ally. (Until this day, I am frequently complimented on my “graceful” and “elegant” penmanship—so much so, I have been asked if I could turn it into a font!)
My father looked at my one-item list, pulled cash from his wallet and said, “Remember to always spend this wisely. There will be things you will want to buy, but a book will always be something you need. Remember, a book will always be better than a toy.”
I had no complaints. I had toys and I played with them. But, what my father didn’t know at the time of his advice was that books were already my secret treasure. I didn’t read books because I had to, I read them because there were stories in them that needed telling, that needed reading. So, as a child, I read voraciously. My appetite grew with each finished novel, each new, explored genre.
My second home would be the local library. I was eight when my father helped me apply for my very first library card. It was the most valuable thing in my wallet. It grew creases with age as my book lists grew and my tote bags lugged with weight.
Years later, my library has grown, but I still own the Childcraft Encyclopedia set that my parents bought for me, I still have the original copy of the “Charlotte’s Web” book that I bought from the school Book Fair.
If anything, I am proud to say I’m an avid reader. It isn’t a go-to line as much as it is a short biography. I am an avid reader and have been so since I was a child.
I’m an avid reader. I’m a book borrower. I’m a bibliotaphe.
I’m one of those people who puts books on hold at the library two months in advance so that I can be one of the privileged few to get my hands on new releases before they come off press.
I’m one of those people who will sit in an aisle at a book store and forget I am there because I’m enthralled with what I’m reading. (I finished reading the poems in “The Blizzard of One” by Mark Strand in one sitting.)
I’m one of those people who will ignore my telephone so that I can finish reading the end of a line or the end of a chapter.
I’m one of those people who organizes my books by author, genre, or emotional attachment.
I’m one of those people who miss literary characters once a book has ended.
I’m one of those people who has piles of books in each and every room of my house.
I am also one of those people who will shrug off a date in order to go to a book signing, a poetry reading, a wine and cheese party, or literary gala.
And I am also one of those people whose awe in meeting an author in person is equivalent to the hysteria found in others for famous rock stars and starlets found in Hollywood.
I’m one of those people who knows the different names, literary genres, and styles of publishers who print and distribute the books that I love.
I’m one of those people who collects bookmarks and isn’t ashamed about it.
I’m one of those people who loves the feel and smell of a new book.
I’m one of those people who will stay up late into the wee hours of the night in order to finish reading a book, finish writing a review, and post it onto my book blog.
My love of books has not only inspired me to write this blog entry, but to imagine what it would it be like if I could transform my actual living space into bookish delight.
I’d like to live in a book house.
On Paper Avenue.
With pens as my picket fence.
My book house would have book stairs:
A book nook closet:
A book bed:
(From: “Design for Mankind.”)
And a book desk.
I’d read under a book chandalier:
Take a shower behind a written page:
And watch my paper flowers bloom.
(From: “DIY Storybook Paper Roses.”)
I’d “unscramble” my pillows:
Keep myself “literally” warm with this scarf:
I’d jot my thoughts about books into these:
And when I’m done, carry them all in this typewriter tote bag.
Sure, I want books under the tree at Christmas time. But, I love books so much, I’d want to make my Christmas tree out of books as well.
(From: “Make a Book Christmas Tree.”)
And instead of giving my daughter a Barbie, I’d buy her, her very own Margaret Atwood doll:
And when I travel, I much prefer to pack these in my luggage instead of clothes:
Photo: (c) Zara Alexis D. Garcia-Alvarez
Forget the old lady who lived in a Shoe. I’m the dame who wants to live in a Book!
If you find any “bookish” treats to add to my bookish dream home, please don’t hesitate to post a comment with a link and I can post it here on my blog.
Until then, happy reading.
(c) Zara Alexis D. Garcia-Alvarez