Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Gift of Books -- Thanks, Mom!

Tomorrow is Mother's Day. All of us have something-- some gift, memory, or grace-- given to us by our moms. Maybe we aren't even aware of it: eyes that are an unusual shade of grey, a tilt of the head that echoes a young woman from long ago, a habit of twirling hair, a laugh. I have my mother's eyes-- one of my only truly pretty features. I didn't get her curls, but I got the dark color of her hair. I have her hands. I have her voice, husky and low.

But the greatest gift my mother gave me was a passion for books. I remember a time, preparing high school students for the MCAS (standardized test) exams. My department chair shared a study that showed that the most reliable and consistent factor among students who did well on these exams, and in school overall, was the amount of reading material in the home. Kids from low income, middle income, and high income homes performed better across the board if they had parents who kept books, magazines, and other reading materials around the house. Even the education level of the parents had less of an impact on the statistics. A kid with two parents who had graduate degrees or higher would score predictably lower than a kid with parents who had nothing more than a high school education, but lived in a home with a wide variety of reading material.

I was not so much shocked as pleasantly surprised. Reading makes you smarter. It exposes you to ideas and experiences. It opens your mind.

My mom gave me books. I grew up without many luxuries; we never went to Disney Land. But there was a great used book store in the next town called The Book Stall. They had a musty basement (every time I read about Harry Potter sneaking through the tunnel to Honeydukes I think of it). You could buy used paperbacks there, and they had a terrific "swap" program where you could bring in a grocery back full of novels, swap it for a couple of bucks and another full bag. There were always a few around the house, and my mom traded off with all the neighborhood mothers, too.

I read my first romance-- Jude Deveraux's The Black Lion-- way before I was old enough for the content. But I figured it all out eventually-- and thank goodness the age of the bodice ripper has gone. Those types of romances are rare these days. But I also read Tolkien, CS Lewis, devoured the Ingalls Wilder books, and moved on to adult stuff before leaving grade school. The most exciting part of moving from the lower grades to junior high, for me, was getting my greedy hands on the stacks at the library.

I still love books. I will always love books. I love the smell, and the feel of the pages, and the tiny scribbles in pencil some stranger has left in the margin. I love yard sales on a warm June afternoon with tables piled with yellowing paperbacks-- old school romances from Johanna Lindsay and Kathleen Woodiwiss, original copies of Lad, A Dog. I love the gold on the edges of a leather-bound classic. I love the shift as the first words take me someplace new, and the bittersweet feeling of both loss and completion when I turn the last page to say goodbye to new friends and far off places.

So Happy Mother's Day, Lanie. And thank you for the many, many worlds you gave me.


  1. confession: I still love bodice-rippers.

    My mom had a lot of books in the house, but they were all non-fiction. I realized a few years ago, when I wore out my library card getting books for my grandma in the nursing home, where my love of stories came from.

  2. YAYYYYY! My mom fostered a love of reading in me and my sis, too...I love hearing that other moms have done the same. I do that with my kids, as well!

  3. We used to walk at least 2 miles to the book-mobile every tuesday in the summer (in Arkansas!) growing up. And we never went to Disney World. And recently my Mom gave me one of the first books I read and owned. She kept it all this time (30 years). Reading was required, not an option, and none of us resent that. My kids are both avid readers and smart as they can be. My sons first card in his wallet was his library card!

  4. I still re-read The Black Lion sometimes. I love that book, even though it was a long time before I realized it was ok to belt your wife in fiction, but not in the kitchen.

    So me, too, Gwen!

  5. I haven't read "The Black Lyon", but I did love some of her others. I thought the one where she got hypnotized and did the past life regression was amazing.

  6. My mom never censored my music or my reading--and I have passed that on to my kids.

  7. Beautiful post, Chrissy!

    We may not have had a lot of things growing up, but there were always books, esp during summer vacations when my sisters and I made weekly trips to the library or book mobile.