I was recently asked to write a brief piece about reading and how it shapes us, and shapes how and what we write. Because I have written about my books and reading a number of times, I repeat some thoughts. But since circumstances change and books continue to add dimension and depth to my life, there will always be new thoughts.
A few tattered and faded children's books rest on shelves in our home library. There are several shelves loaded with books of all sizes and shapes that belonged to my sons when they were growing up. Now my granddaughters like to go to those shelves and choose books to read when they are here. Sometimes I give one to Skye that has Sean (her daddy) printed on the inside cover. Or I may send a few home with Maddie and Jordann marked with "for Jeremy, from Mom and Dad" - books that belonged to their dad, our second son. I have already given not yet one-year-old Nora books that include her own daddy's name, Ben, as the proud owner.
But the name on the first books I mention is "Mary Ann." Mother Goose. Children's Prayers. Henny Penny. They are books from my own very early childhood, so that makes some of them nearly 75 years old. There are others on the shelves that were mine when I was a little girl and reading was already part of my every day life - The Five Little Martins, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, The Bobsey Twins and Nancy Drew series. Once in a blog post I wrote about the significance of these books by saying: Beyond the edges of the pages in these children's books is a narrative of family choices and values that is dear to me. Neither my grandparents nor my parents were well educated or wealthy. "Times were hard." is an expression I heard often when they spoke of past years. The fact that books were important speaks volumes about family standards and values. I cannot hold these books and finger their fragile pages without thinking of being read to when I was little, and remembering that my mother had the same advantage. It was natural that reading to my own children was always one of my favorite things to do. It is sweet to see that tradition carried on as my sons have their own little ones who share bedtime prayers and bedtime stories.
Reading has indeed shaped my life and naturally shapes how and what I choose to write. I believe we are enriched by the stories of others, and that the more we read the wider our own life experience becomes. This is more than just finding good prompts in what I read. I read a wide variety of genres, including poetry, and often find a phrase turned in a way that it becomes a part of my own language. I said it this way in a blog post about reading and keeping books: there are those volumes I read that intrigue or entertain or illumine, that somehow stay with me as a changed piece of my heart. Even the little yellowed children's books that I show my grandchildren saying, “this storybook was mine when I was a little girl,” are me, like my brown eyes and freckles. Many books in my library become part of me in different ways when I reread them in later years....
Books I have recently read which have stretched me, often making me laugh and cry out loud are Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good by Jan Karon and All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Both are fiction, but the genre differs. They are such very different reads, but I feel each has enriched and filled me. What books have made you feel that way?
The blog posts I have quoted from are below.