A life without books? Unimaginable!
I didn't grow up in a library, but sometimes it felt that way.
"I should be doing a lot more reading." This thought flashes through my mind every time I sit down at my desk and stare at one entire wall that is lined with books. There's probably 150 feet of shelf space, entirely filled.Skip to next paragraph
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People who come downstairs where my desk is located usually make the same comment: "Wow! You've got a lot of books!" It's true, but not as many as I once had. The collection is just a fraction of its original size.
I didn't grow up in a library, but sometimes it felt that way. My parents met and married during World War II. Both were avid readers. In 1948, they settled into a large colonial-style home in the San Francisco Bay Area, and for the next 30 years a steady stream of books flowed into it.
If a major earthquake had struck during that period, it's possible that an avalanche of paper would have poured down from every direction.
It wasn't until about the fourth grade that I realized what a tremendous resource I had all around me. I was doing a report on the coelacanth, a prehistoric fish that was believed to be extinct until rediscovered in the early 1950s. An encyclopedia gave me the title of a book, "Old Fourlegs: the Story of the Coelcanth" by J.L.B. Smith, a scientist who played a key role in the hunt for a living specimen.
I asked my dad to drive me to the city library, but he said we didn't need to. Then he went and pulled a copy of "Old Fourlegs: the Story of the Coelcanth" from one of the shelves in the living room. I was astounded. It had never occurred to me that grown-ups would buy a book about an exotic fish for their own personal enrichment.
Reading habits can tell you a lot about someone's character and worldview. My dad was interested in almost everything: history, natural science, crime, biographies, mysteries, westerns, politics – there wasn't a genre he hadn't explored.
As a teenager I made a modest effort to familiarize myself with some of the famous titles in 20th-century American fiction. While kids at my high school were reading "The Greening of America," "Siddhartha," and "Love Story," I was plowing through "Arrowsmith," "The Jungle," "The Sun Also Rises," and "Winesburg, Ohio."
When my mother thought a book was significant, she sometimes jotted a notation on the title page. Her copy of "Gone With the Wind" includes this comment: "September 1936 – Everyone this year is super-enthused about this book – one of the most talked of in my lifetime."
I never think of people in the 1930s using the word "super" in conversation, but there it is.