With my birthday today, I'm thinking about how much books have meant to my life. My mother died just two months ago, so my bookish thoughts begin with her, who did so much to nurture my love of reading.
I grew up in a bookish home - one of my first memories is of "Kerry the Fire Dog," probably one of the Little Golden Books with their gilt-edged bindings. I vaguely recall others - one about a truck that delivered coal in New York. The stars of our first grade readers, Alice and Jerry, still run through my mind with their dog, Jip. Later, we spent the school year with a family touring the United States - they started off in Virginia in the fall and ended in California by spring.
Thinking of my mother, I remember vividly her buying me Robert Louis Stevenson's "A Child's Garden of Verses" at a book fair at Glasgow Elementary School in Baton Rouge. I can remember the afternoon light streaming through the classroom's louvered windows, the books laid on the tables, and my excitement when she bought the book for me. Did I pick it out, or did she give it to me as a surprise? I think the latter.
I loved Stevenson's "Kidnapped," re-reading countless times the edition that had on its cover the actor James MacArthur, star of the Disney movie version of the book, which might have been one of the first movies I saw in a theater. However, I never could finish "Treasure Island" and Long John Silver, although I remember the atmosphere of the tavern where the pirates hung out in the early chapters.
My reading was often like the fast food just coming in big - the Hardy Boys, Chip Hilton. I loved a series of biographies for children with distinctive blue covers and silhouette illustrations and titles like Abe Lincoln, Young Railsplitter, and Ernie Pyle, Young Reporter. The world of comic books was another pleasure.
Other books glow in my memory - one about a crusty old fisherman who sank to the bottom of the sea. Another had a cover of a blond girl reading a book whose cover was same girl reading the same book, whose cover was the same girl reading the same book, and on and on, smaller and smaller, into eternity. Looking at it cast a mesmerizing spell upon me.
I had a huge love for sports - I must have read Lou Gehrig, Young Ballplayer, a hundred times. Willie Mays was another hero encountered in books as well as on the TV Saturday game of the week, which followed Howdy Doody and Pinky Lee and Gummy and Industry on Parade. Strange to think about it now, but boxing and its history intrigued me. Golf, football, even lacrosse and track with the great wronged Indian hero Jim Thorpe. A collection called "100 Sports Heroes" taught me about legendary figures like Ben Hogan who had overcome serious handicaps, and Mickey Mantle's book on courage I considered a bible. Later, I understood that the Mick probably had not written a word of it and wondered which sportswriter of the time had ghost-written it.
Sports gave a glimpse into the adult world - I relished every ribald moment of Bill Veeck's memoir "Veeck as in Wreck," co-written with Ed Linn. I also reached ahead of my years to read a few of my father's Book of the Month Club selections, the most memorable a history of the Battle of the Bulge.
Those avidly consumed books lay the foundation for all of the serious "adult" books that fill my shelves today. Now I enjoy e-books as well. I've rarely though found the pure joy given me by Kerry, the orphan Dalmatian with his bright red tongue who rode the fire truck to every fire.