I was thinking in bed this morning about 3 people who have influenced my reading life. They were pivotal to my character formation. Reading has given me the courage, and interest, to move from country to country and city to city, to think outside of the box and to believe that anything is possible if you can dream it.
Herewith is an homage to the people who stoked my interest:
1) My Grandpa Edward. He never read me bedtime stories – that was my Father's job. But it was he who ordered Bread and Jam for Frances from the library for my 5th birthday. This was in the days before Barnes and Noble. Where we lived in Greenacres, Washington, the book pickings were slim when I was a child. We mainly read books from the library. One could say that books, especially poetry in later life, were his favorite . My Grandfather read in the afternoon on his big leather recliner that sat in his den (an act of self-preservation) and every night before bed. He read book reviews hungrily and passed on his favorites. My Grandfather introduced me to Thoreau, Sylvia Plath, Hemingway, Joan Didion, Richard Russo, John Irving, and Anne-Marie MacDonald, to name just a few.
2) My Dad, a one time hardware store owner, college basketball player, and MBA graduate nearing retirement age. He always picked the right book, appropriate for my age and interest. He was never, ever off the mark. Every year for his birthday my Father received a subscription to National Geographic, which I then pilfered occasionally if there was nothing else to read. Dad introduced me to Mark Twain, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Lois Lenski, Louisa May Alcott, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, L. M. Montgomery, and the author of Maud Hart Lovelace.
3) Louise Knudsen, or Mrs. Knudsen to me. She had the world's most beautiful blue eyes. She also had a terrible limp from what I believe to be a congenital birth defect. I never asked. Mrs. Knudsen lived at the very end of our street, where the street met the Holiday Hills going towards Liberty Lake and the Spokane Gun Club. For many years she and my grandparents would send me to welcome new neighbors with fruit baskets and homemade caramel apples. When I was very little we went to her house on Christmas Eve for eggnog and an incredible feast of cookies and fudge. Her children were grown and moved away and never came to visit her. I was rude enough to ask why.
Besides Christmas cookies, Mrs. Knudsen had other draws for me. Reeses Peanut Butter Cups and books. If she had time, Mrs. Knudsen would invite you in for an Reeses Peanut Butter Cups and a story. If she didn't have time for you, she'd still give you a Reese's. (It is my favorite candy to this day). This woman would take time out of her day to sit down and read to me. My favorites were from her childhood collection. Some of them we read twice. My all-time favorite was The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. To this day I give copies of it to adults and children alike. From her I also fell in love with The Velveteen Rabbit, A Bear Called Paddington, Hucklebug and Morgan Me, Shel Silverstein's writings, The Little Prince, The Box Car Children, and The Chronicles of Narnia. I have just ordered a copy of Dot and The Kangaroo as an early birthday present for myself. I thank Amazon.com for this wonderful service.
Sadly, the above scenario would probably not happen today. A candy doling older woman reading to a child. I am not sure as a parent I could let my children make that walk. There really are perverts in the forest enticing kids with candy. Hansel and Gretel is a time-tested tale after all. But much more than that, who today takes time to read to a child who is not their own? Don't people have a million other things to do with their time? I think you know my answer.