When I was a kid, I liked trips to the library or the book store more than trips to any toy store. I can remember circling the aisles in my hometown library, searching the walls of books in the children's section for something that piqued my interest. Usually, that meant, as it does for many readers, books about someone like me. I wanted to read about other young girls, and especially ones who veered a bit to the nerdy, outcasty, artsy, "different" side. I would stack up 10, 12 books in my scrawny arms and carry them carefully to the counter, where the librarian would shuffle through the stack, stamping each one in the back with a quiet thump that qualifies as one of the nicest sounds I know. In the car, I tuned my mother, the radio, the entire world out as I began thumbing through my picks. And if it was too dark to read, I happily gazed out the window, lost in a daydream about people I would meet and the world I would enter in the reading to come.
Bookstores were great, too. I had some massive book collections as a kid. I loyally read all the Babysitter Club books, up through about No. 50 or so. I also read other series -- Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley Twins, Sweet Valley High, the scary R.L. Stine Books, the ever scarier Christopher Pike books, and in high school, a soap operaish series called Boyfriends and Girlfriends. Scattered amongst those mainstays in my book collections were other favorites like Roahl Dalh's books, all of Judy Blooms books, Charlotte's Web, Where the Wild Fern Grows, How to Eat Fried Worms (one of the only books I loved with a male main character) and many others.
After my bedtime at night, I used to strategically turn on a hallway light and crack my door so I could read by the sliver of light that shone into my room. It's no wonder my eyes are so bad. But I could not stand going to bed without reading a few pages, at least. The world of books and stories seemed to infiltrate my entire reality. When I played dolls or make-believe games with other girls, we invariably modeled ourselves or our Barbies after our favorite characters. I always wanted to be Stacy from the Babysitters Club for a variety of reasons -- she was from New York, she dressed stylishly, she was popular, boys liked her, she was blond. All good reasons to a 10-year-old.
Now as a 26-year-old, I can see that this was no silly childhood crush, but the beginning of a lifelong love affair of reading and books. Still, there is little greater joy for me than filing into a bookstore with time to spare and the intention to buy. I have oodles of books next to my bed, propped on a small table and arranged in piles on a square fan (because the fan rattles without an anchor). One of the greatest things about my new house is my small office, where I have two entirely filled bookcases and a big brown recliner to sit and read in. It's the room I have always wanted.
(One of my beautfully stocked cases.)
My tastes have not changed much. I still pick up books mostly about women and usually authored by women as well. And while I have read a few award winners, for the most part, I don't head for the heavier stuff. I love a good short story collection. I mean, if there is one thing I can't help but purchase, it's a short story collection. I think I have Alice Munro's entire catalog, as well as great collections by Adam Haslett, Z.Z. Packer, Elizabeth Berg, Jhumpa Lahiri, Flannery O'Connor, Kurt Vonnegut, John Updike, and Enid Shomer, as well as anthologies like Best American Short Stories, Esquire's collected short stories, Story Quarterly, Ploughshares and Glimmer Train. There is something magical about short stories, their ability to create an entirely believable and layered world in a matter of pages, to plop you down into a life midstream and stay just long enough to learn something. I can not get enough.
Lately, this love affair has been so fierce, it is nearly all-encompassing. And as I've written about earlier, it has forced me to consider the fact that this is where my real passion lies, that more than anything, I want to join the ranks of these amazing writers. As far-fetched a thought as that might be, it's now planted deep in my heart, and I'm babying it and protecting it like it could grow into something big.
If it doesn't, I still win, because I know I will always be a reader, I will always have hundreds of books waiting for me to read. And that is the most wonderful blessing I can imagine.