Deep In Books

Obviously I have been away awhile, physically part of the time, mentally most of the time.

As usual we spent the holidays with our grandchildren - oh, and, yes, their parents, too. I am fortunate to have Younger Son and Husband/Best Friend/Chief Photographer who do all the driving when we travel. That way I get to read all the way.

I travel with a book bag supplied with plenty of reading material, plus tablet and pens for my own notes and jottings.
But once returned, I continued to read. That appears to be an annual pattern for this gardener. We are now a week into February.

Understand, these books were not about plants or gardening. If they were, this post would be in the category "Books". But, they were not, so this one goes in "Off the Subject", the subject being gardening.

I had begun
some of the books last year on that trip, so all I had to do was finish them. Dear Daughter-by-love-and-marriage always gives us each a book under the Christmas tree. I have been known to latch onto Husband's and have it nearly read by the time we get back home. Books are gifts I look forward to. The cute thing is: sometimes she knows nothing about the book, but selects it only by the cover appealing to her. Well, don't laugh - or as we used to say, don't knock it - for, so far, they have all been happy successes, not a dud in the bunch.

So, what have I read over the past several weeks? I will make a list.

Amy Tan's Saving Fish from Drowning was quite different from anything I had ever read. It had a different rhythm and spin, but once I settled in, I enjoyed the ride.

The Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. This is a good book that one could read with one's children. An easy read, it is a thought provoking letter from a man to his son.

Stories for a Woman's Heart, a compilation of uplifting writings by numerous writers, compiled by Alice Gray. This cozy, comforting book we found among my mother-in-law's books when we were going through that sad time following her death. What a wonderful book to find at such a time... a gift to lift the heart and spirits. Some of the writers are: Ruth Bell Graham, Philip Gulley, Robin Jones Gunn, Erma Bombeck, James Dobson, et al.

A Christmas Promise, a novel by Katherine Spencer, with covers illustrated by Thomas Kinkade. This is a sweet, clean, easy read appropriate for teens and older.

Fannie Flagg's novel, A Redbird Christmas, a delightful easy read that starts out based in Chicago then moves to the Mobile, Alabama, area where we lived for a year (1963-64). Southerner by birth, I enjoyed the mental return to the Deep South. The book is appropriate for all ages.

Then last but my most favorites are the trilogy by Mary O'Hara: My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead, and Green Grass of Wyoming. I read them when I was a child, but I enjoyed them even more, much more, this time as I read with adult eyes and understanding. The beauty of the author's descriptions of the countryside, the mountains, the spread of ranch, the sky and weather is some of the most beautiful I have ever read. Her description of circumstances and the industry reveal she must surely have known these things first hand. A quick search on the Internet confirmed what I suspected. Yes, she had lived there and then.

If you know an older child who loves and dreams of horses these books are a must read. For some reason it seems girls
especially enjoy them and have an affinity for horses. I once read someone's opinion about that: They thought it was because the strength of horses fills out the lack of brute strength in young girls. You decide about that.

I think that was all I read during those weeks. (But of course I traveled with a few Horticulture magazines, as always.) Those are the first novels I have read in a long time. I surely did read my share of them during my teens and twenties. After that fiction lost its appeal; I find nonfiction more interesting, especially anything about plants and gardening.

I feel so fortunate to be able to read
; cataracts are encroaching, but not very bad yet. Reading is one of the most important things in my life, one of my greatest joys. From the first Dick and Jane books (and their dog Spot), I was hooked! Then there was the little book I struggled to read about the beaver family in the house they built. Our own house was approximately 300 to 400 yards from a river where beavers could live. Learning about beavers and how they build was interesting. Learning is exciting! And, reading opened the doors to new worlds.

My mother spent many hours reading to me. I think when I outgrew naps; reading was her way to catch a bit of rest from her chores. Then in the evening there was usually time for a little more reading. We covered so much; I look back with amazement.

I will never forget what it was like when my mother introduced me,
as a child, to the small public library in our little town. I think I will never forget the wonderful, distinctive scent that met me every time I walked through that door into the shady, cool dimness. Waiting for my eyes to adjust from the southern heat and sun that I had just left outside, I would take a deep breath to savor the smell, and wonder in awe of so many books available to me. When first the understanding sank into my tiny, young mind it was like a miracle. Then I had to learn that not all the books were understandable to my little mind, so not accessible after all, but I grew.

It got so bad, this reading habit of mine, that by the time I was larger and old enough to drive the John Deere tractor (a small one by today's standards) while the men pulled the ripe ears of corn and tossed them into the wagon I slowly pulled along, I was driving with one hand and holding a copy of Helen Hunt Jackson's Ramona in the other. I would pull forward then wait for the men to catch up with me, then I was supposed to move the wagon forward again as they worked along the rows throwing the dry ears into the wagon. But, I would join Ramona in her heartbreaking saga in Southern California, and sit there forgetting about the sweet smell of dry Tennessee cornfields and corn flying into my motionless wagon as the men passed until my father yelled at me, "Put that book down! And pay attention!!! Red haired, he did have a bad temper, and I surely was riling it.

My mother had a first cousin (their mothers were sisters) about her own age who was a school teacher. Every year for Christmas she gave me a book. That fact made me feel very special, and grown up. A book was not a toy; it was more.

The strange thing is: I could probably pick them out from the book shelf if I looked,
but I remember only two of the titles without looking. They are Gulliver's Travels, and Now That April's There, a novel set in Oxford, England during the Second World War. I believe the reason I remember those titles is because of the great unpleasantness I associate with them.

Reading Now That April's There in 1946 (I was ten years old.) caused me to yearn to visit Oxford, but when I finally got there forty-two years later (1988) my brief visit was most unpleasant. People were not friendly, I was ill, and the March weather was - well, March - being its usual self turning umbrellas inside out in cold pouring rain. Our accommodation was reserved for one night. When we found we would have to stay in Oxford another night or two, I was turned out of our room in a most inhospitable way, because it was reserved for someone else arriving that day.

Husband at work, I packed all our possessions for the both of us, managed to get them down the steep stairway to the ground floor (with no help whatsoever), then sat with the mountain of luggage (enough for 14 weeks) near the front door waiting until my husband returned from work. All the while the
proprietor was glaring at me and telling me to go elsewhere, offering no help in locating another establishment. We had been in Oxford about sixteen hours, I had never seen it in the daylight, and I was just hoping I wouldn't throw up right there on his carpet. Enough of that story (there is more).... I surely did miss our good old friendly Southern Hospitality.

Gulliver's Travels was received Christmas 1947. I was eleven years old and had never heard of satire. All I knew was that it was a most vulgar book with illustrations such that my mother would have taken the book away from me, burned it, and scolded her cousin if she only knew. I didn't show her. But, I thought it was not a good book, repulsive in fact. I grew older and learned more. Years later I learned about satire, then it all fell into place in my mind. Interesting, that concept called satire!
What a world of stuff to learn!

So, my personal library grew, one way or another, over the years. It has continued to grow until now we are deep in books. The shelves overfloweth! Books on every surface everywhere! It reminds me of a quip of Mark Twain's when a visitor commented on the number of books stacked on the floor. Twain replied that shelves were not so easily borrowed.

I frequently wonder what will happen to my collection which includes a complete set of Dickens, a set of Kipling, several Kentucky writers, and of course many beautiful books on plants and gardens. Every volume is special due to one thing or another. How will I ever give them up? I will leave you with another quote that expresses it far better than I ever could.

"These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves. From each of them goes out its own voice and just as the touch on our set will fill the room with music, so by taking down one of these volumes and opening it, one can call into range the voice of a man far distant in time and space, and hear him speaking to us, mind to mind, heart to heart."
Gilbert Highet
Scottish-American classicist (1906-78)