Thursday, February 10, 2011

How Could I Not Love Reading?

            My first memory of reading is of my mother’s voice reading Winnie the Pooh, over and over and over again, as often as it was requested by myself or either of my two sisters -- until the book had to be returned to the library from whence it came.
Even with both my parents working, we could not afford to buy books, so our twice-monthly trips to the library were filled with painful anticipation containing equal amounts of grief over the loss of now-familiar story-friends and the promise of new wonders yet to be beheld.
            The greatest, deepest, most complete sense of accomplishment and sheer, secret joy I ever remember feeling – even to this day -- was the moment Mama took me to the library to get me my very own library card in my very own name. That meant I could explore the shelves in the children’s section all I wanted and choose for myself the books I wanted to read.
I no longer had to wait for Mama to make the choices. I no longer was limited to what she would select. I could choose the worlds I wanted to discover. I could keep the company I wanted to keep. And I could enter those worlds with those more-real-because-imagined friends at my own leisure, without having to wait for Mama to get home from work, or to not be too tired, or to not have time because Papa wanted or needed her attention.
Worlds upon worlds, to infinity, were now my very own to explore without limit. Life itself was now mine. And my life, my own.
I was 5 years old.

Snail by Judy M 1993
Since then, reading has lived up to all its promises and more. It has provided wisdom, protection, friendship, and stability in a world otherwise fraught with danger and uncertainty and sudden, inexplicable change.
Rarely seen by his children, Papa ruled in absentia in the household, and to bring any of her unruly children into line, Mama only had to say, “Do I have to tell Papa?” Just her asking that question produced such imagined, ominous possibilities in the minds of her children that, to my knowledge, not once did she ever actually “tell Papa.”
Not being present to defend himself, Papa likely became a more ominous figure to his children than he actually was, although he intentionally did little to dispel our illusion, preferring the emotional safety of not having interactive relationships with his children. Papa, himself, thus, became the central, most dangerous, uncertainty in our lives.
He was also the source of what became, in our lives, a frequent pattern of sudden, inexplicable change. Time and again he would come home late in the afternoon or early in the evening and announce to his children, “Pack your suitcases; we’re moving in an hour.” And by golly, we did! 29 times before I was 21. Every time, in the middle of a school year.
To cope with all this danger, uncertainty and sudden, inexplicable change, both of my sisters would come home from each new school the first day with a new best friend. I, on the other hand, was painfully shy. I found my best friends in books. I had the advantage, in that I could never lose my best friends, even if I had to leave the books behind in the next move. They lived inside of me.
Thus, books became my best friends. My protection from loss. The one stable element in my uncertain world. They could always be counted on to bring me comfort, expand my horizons, calm my fears, satisfy my curiosity, enrich my inner life.
Duck by Judy M 1993
I first entered intimately into the worlds of Mr. Owl, Mr. Mole, Miss Hedgehog, Mr. Fox; a series of 15 books, each told from the viewpoint of the individual animals in a meadow. I read them all. Then I graduated to fairy tales, then the Nancy Drew mysteries, then Agatha Christie and Dashiell Hammett, then the surprise endings of O’Henry, the bizarre tales of Roald Dahl and Saki. In high school I was introduced to Silas Marner, and Shakespeare, and Dickens and discovered levels of meaning I had not encountered since I had read my last fairy tale. I was enchanted.
Darker tales then drew my interest and I found Kafka, Dostoyefski, George Orwell, Katherine Mansfield and her “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” collection of stories, and endless other scenarios of projected doom and disaster.
Just the ticket to feed my juvenile depression.
Just the ticket, also, to feed my growing appreciation for the art of skillful use of the English language. Just the ticket to make my tongue tickle to pronounce the flowing phrases dancing across my tongue when I would read aloud, tasting the bitter and the sweet, the salty and the sour. Just the ticket to give me permission to feel the whole of the myriad of feelings running around inside me. Just the ticket to confirm I was alive, and not an invisible, spiritous gas in someone else’s imagination. Just the ticket to heal my juvenile depression.
And then I discovered poetry. Here, indeed, were infinite universes of infinite complexity I could lose myself in forever – rightfully, delightfully, joyfully. Always finding hidden surprises, as though eternally unwrapping the paper-ribbon balls of my childhood, stuffed with hidden trinket after hidden trinket. Collections of words with their own music built into them. Designed to be read aloud. A lyrical gourmet meal of words.
How could I not love reading?

For additional writing by Judy M, exploring healing in all aspects of life, visit

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