My introduction to books was not innocent—not in the least. I was three and curious. Specifically, I wanted to know where babies came from. My father, not the most comfortable of people, harrumphed, cleared his throat, and told me that he was too busy.
I resolved to get the needed information on my own. My uncle, who was in the Army, had stored his medical books in our attic. I had looked at them and knew those pictures contained the kernels of truth; but the words: what might those words tell me? All I had to do was learn to read. Sufficiently motivated, I easily mastered the task.
The joke, however, was on me. Those wonderful books filled with information were in Latin. Oh, well, at least I had opened the door to new and wonderful worlds.
Finding books worth reading was not easy. I really didn’t care about Dick, Jane, or even Spot. Quickly, I was reading the few adult books our home offered. It was a limited and strange assortment, mostly chosen to fill the bookshelf Dad had found on the street and brought home. Still, they were books and I devoured them. One of the unintended consequences came to light when at five I began attending Sunday school. Being Jewish, I was not expected to know the legends of all the national saints of the European countries, but I did. I particularly loved the saints who had killed dragons. To be honest, the rabbi reminded me a bit of a dragon, and I did have fantasies of slashing him with my great sword. But that is a different story.
Somebody suggested the library. What a wonderful place. One small problem, those darn Dick and Jane quality books. I was five and had read most of the Hardy Boys and had heard of books by people named Twain, Stevenson, Dickens, and London. When would I get to read them?
“Too young. Too young.” The refrain hurt my pride and interfered with my favorite leisure pursuit. Eventually, I talked my way into a grownup card. I was off and running—or at least reading. Unfortunately, I had no idea which books were worth reading and which not. Worse, there was no one to help me. Perhaps one of my English teachers might have helped, but I had been duly warned that if word got out, my precious card would be taken away. So I read a motley array of books; none of which, by the way, providing the information I had originally sought.
Some of those books were great and some were trash. At the time I had my own list of which were which. Now, of course, I have the lists of “great books” and “classics” to tell me what I am supposed to think of them—not that I give a fig about such lists.
What I do care about—what I cared about then and still do—was finding books that did more than entertain me. Keeping a kid occupied is easy. I wanted books that made me think and feel, books that made me expand, made me aware, made me alive. Because I found them—too often buried in the trash, but still there, my love affair with books went on and grew. It still burns today. I try to read at least one book a week as well as lots of other stuff. On a vacation, I can push that number up to one per day. Such is true happiness.