I thought I would take the time to write a few posts on the people who inspired my love of reading. There have been many over the years. Friends, family members, a sweet woman who bought me a copy of a novel she'd read and dropped it off while I was busy and stressed working in a retail store at Christmas time, because she said "it looks like you could use a vacation". All kinds of people have touched my life by recommending books that have touched theirs or by gifting me ones that they felt would speak to me. Of all these delightful people, none has left more of a lasting impression than my father.
My Daddy, Joseph, Joe or "Mr. Kilbert please", as he insisted my friends call him followed by a "you should show some respect to your elders!" (much to my teenage embarrassment) loved to read. He read a little of everything. There always seemed to be a paperback lying around with a square of toilet paper folded in half as a bookmark. Often these books were left in the bathroom which was a place he read often, probably to get away from the five of us kids. He occasionally dog-eared corners of passages he wanted to go back to and would sometimes read them aloud while we listened even though we playfully rolled our eyes - what I wouldn't give to hear him read to me now.
My parents' bed had a shelf on the headboard that was loaded with books. I remember tip-toeing into their room on Saturday mornings which was their day to sleep in since my Dad was a teacher. I would beg him to read to me from Peter Benchley's Jaws and he always read the same line - "and then, duuuh dun, duuuh dun, duh dun duh dun duh dun THE SHARK ATE HIM UP!" and he slapped the book shut. With apologies to Mr. Benchley for Dad's paraphrasing, I felt Jaws was a fine book even though when I was finally allowed to read it at age eleven, I never found that brilliant line.
Dad loved for us to build our imaginations. We subscribed to magazines like Reader's Digest and National Geographic, and he had a special subscription of National Geographic World for me which always had posters in the center of animals. My favorite were the sharks. Go figure. He told me reading would open up worlds of wonder for me and take me places I couldn't dream of. He also encouraged my love of images and let me tack up pictures everywhere and always picked up postcards for me at the antique mall he liked to root around in. We had a whole set of World Book encyclopedias where we'd look things up if I came across an idea or a place that I'd never heard of. We had a dictionary on hand to find the meanings of words, but also used it to find short words with odd letter combinations so he could beat my mother at Scrabble. When she'd challenge him he'd yell "Mick get out the dictionary!" and his eyes would sparkle with glee since he knew qat was in there.
Dad would never refuse my request for a book. I think when the Scholastic order form arrived from school he might have cringed a little, knowing all his mad money for the week was likely to be gone. It wasn't strange for my parents to see the entire page circled. I wanted to read everything because reading books meant talking about books with my dad. We would pick a couple, then a couple turned into several and when my Mom said "Do you really need all 9 of these?" my Dad would jump in and say "only 9? That's showing some real restraint honey!"
As a child he read to me constantly and when I was old enough to start sounding things out we would read together. We started small with Little Golden Books and went through The Pokey Little Puppy and Baby Animals, then graduated to children's literature. We read Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys mysteries (and he heard too often about my huge crush on Shawn Cassidy who was SO much cuter than his brother David on The Partridge Family). We loved Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H. and The Phantom Tollbooth and so many others. These lead directly to my love of language and my constant search for new stories to hold my attention. When I saw my mother last she told my husband "this girl grew up with her nose in a book." Never was a truer statement spoken about me.
I remember Dad disappearing down into the basement and rummaging in a cabinet where he kept copies of books he'd read with my brothers and sisters, pulling them out one by one and seeing what adventures we could share. My siblings were all older than me by at least eleven years so there were a range of books with covers from the sixties and early seventies. This treasure trove of Dad's favorites were accompanied by the old book smell I have always been comforted by. The book cubby was magical and I was always impressed by the piles of books he had on hand at just at the time I needed them.
When Dad was reading for himself, he was always chuckling at the Laughter, The Best Medicine column in the Reader's Digest or pointing out spelling mistakes and grammatical errors in our hometown newspaper which he poured over every day. I think he loved finding the mistakes because it made him feel smarter than everybody else. I think that might have rubbed off on me. Actually, I know it did.
As I got older I paid a little more attention to the dog-eared pages and occasionally underlined parts of books. I couldn't always figure out just why a certain page spoke to him, but I find myself putting a post it on a page I want to come back to. Sometimes I was mildly embarrassed to find he had marked "the good parts" in a romance novel of my Mom's that he read because of its proximity to him in the bathroom. Often a book would simply fall open to the pages that struck him most. I remember he had a copy of Clan of The Cave Bear that was permanently cracked in the spot that was a description of the snow. It breaks my heart to break a book's spine, but Dad's books appreciated the tough love I think.
I have even started using toilet paper bookmarks. Damn if they aren't convenient.
Dad would've probably rejected the idea of a Kindle outright because the feel of a book is important to him, and he would want to rustle the pages and smell the ink. My husband bought me a Kindle because he thought it would save our house from drowning in books. He is a silly boy. If I love a book on my Kindle I buy a physical copy so I can lend it to friends or reach for it and read my favorite parts. Isn't that what everyone does?
We of course can't remember everything about a novel, but most readers have certain books that just stick with them. I've even had times where several pages in, I discover I've read the book before and forgot the title or the plot until it is jogged by a description or phrase. Maybe I read it on my Kindle and didn't recognize the cover. I'll usually skim it again anyway just to reacquaint myself with it, because I can't stand losing most of plot or characters, and I want to make sure my memory serves at to what happened in the end.
Dad has Alzheimer's now. My parents both do. He can't really read anymore because of his failing eyesight. The last time I saw him my Mom was reading a copy of her favorite book The Secret Garden. He said "your Mom reads that book every day. She's read it a hundred times, but she can't remember where she's at or what's going to happen. I would love to read my favorite books again for the first time. Wouldn't you?".
I've thought about that long and hard. As much as I love the initial discovery of a novel and the thrill of cracking open a new, or new-to-me book I've never read before, I worry about losing all the friends I've made in books. I may not know I miss the characters and the stories, but I feel like some part of a person afflicted with this disease must mourn for the pieces that float away. I worry that my future holds a terrible illness that will steal my memories and cloud my mind. Will I remember things that happened to my favorite characters and think they were things I experienced? Will I listen to an audio book of A Christmas Carol and wonder if Ebeneezer has a chance at redemption? I don't know. The questions frighten me.
At the same time there are books I wish I could discover again as a child with my Dad. He would've loved the Young Adult craze that's happening right now, and I think about the joy of finding the Harry Potter books, The Giver by Lois Lowry or The Hunger Games together. Instead we had Ray Bradbury, Stephen King and Robert Cormier to share. They were pretty freaking amazing, and I wouldn't trade them. I hope I don't forget.
My mom looked up while we were discussing her and said "This book is good. Every time. I remember I love it. That's enough right?" and Dad chuckled and said "I guess it is".
It will be enough for me too.
Thank you Daddy, for countless stories and always reading "just one more page".