Whenever I finish a book, I wish I knew how many I've completed in a lifetime of reading.
A few books stand out: Kerry the Firedog, another early picture book about a truck delivering coal, Alice and Jerry's adventures revealing the wonders of language in my first grade class taught by Miss Coates, whom I still remember. The Golden Books, with their distinctive gold-leaf binding, opened a world of enchantment.
My youth was filled with the Hardy Boys, Chip Hilton and the Western novels of Zane Gray. Our mother took us for summertime visits to the air-conditioned bookmobile, where I checked out stacks of baseball, football, golf and boxing histories.
I also loved a series of biographies about famous Americans in their youths, such as "Ernie Pyle, Young Reporter." My favorites were lives of Lou Gehrig, Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin.
Carlos Baker's early biography of Ernest Hemingway stands out as one of the first "serious" books I finished. From there, I discovered Hemingway's novels and short stories, F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" and "Tender Is the Night," Joseph Heller's "Catch 22" and James Joyce's "The Dead." I also fell under the spell of J.D. Salinger's short stories and Glass Family saga and James Joyce's "The Dead."
William Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury" and short stories were a major touchstone of my reading life.
From my college years, I treasure the Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volumes 1 and 2, to which I often return. For years, I consulted my college Webster's dictionary, although it lacked a few contemporary words. In recent years, I've gone to the Internet for definitions.
In college, I began a lifetime passion for the poems of Keats, Eliot and Donne and the poems and plays of Shakespeare.
Sometimes the titles on my bookshelves look like tombstones. I wonder why I'd ever acquired some of my more esoteric titles. Reading often seems futile these days. But it's as essential to me as breathing.
I'll keep reading until I finish my final book.