Saturday, September 14, 2019

House with a Library at the Heart


There’s a line in my author bio about growing up in a house with a library at the heart, and that’s actually not hyperbole. When I was about 7, we moved from an apartment in Syracuse, NY to a house out in what was then a dairy farming and game preserve countryside and when we moved in, my parents had one room turned into an actual library. I remember the local handyman commenting he’d never been asked to build bookshelves before and how much he enjoyed the assignment. The shelves went floor to ceiling, all the way around the room, and then there was a chair, a side table and a lamp. 

I think probably the room was supposed to be the dining room, but we always ate in the big country kitchen anyway, so the library worked. I remember how cool it was to walk in there – my Dad had all his engineering and science textbooks from his undergrad work at Rutgers, plus shelves and shelves of science fiction, philosophy, Louis L’Amour westerns, thrillers, etc. It was a real library!

My Dad was a voracious and extremely fast reader. I inherited that from him, as well as my love for SF.

My mother was a reader of the classics and poetry (neither of which I inherited any love for). She liked to read and re-read, annotate, ponder, make diary entries about specific passages, correspond with her sisters and other friends about the books…she also tended toward really thick Russian novels like The Brothers Karamazov. She did read the occasional historical novel, like The Robe and I grabbed those when she was done. 

We had the obligatory-at-the-time Encyclopedia (not sure which one we owned) as well as my grandfather’s really old encyclopedia from the 1930’s. I loved that one because it had so many entries about ancient Romans and other facts which the more modern one ignored completely. We had Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, which I loved but which frustrated me every time because they were condensed and I always wondered what I was missing. And we had Time-Life books about the ancient world, which I drooled over because my interests have always been science fiction and ancient Egypt.

Books were the thing at my house. I never had to spend my own money on books. (Our topic this week is what was the first book we ever bought with our own money.) My parents believed in the value of reading widely and they kept a flow of books coming for me. My father used to spend one night a week after work in Syracuse with my paternal grandfather and they’d always go to this huge used bookstore after dinner and pick books for me. I read so many series, like Tom Corbett Space Cadet and Trixie Belden, my Dad always knew what to get me and in those days there was no Amazon or eBay to order backlists from so if he got me volume 7 and volume 23, I didn’t care – I was thrilled. He’d come home with a bagful of books for himself and for me, and I’d be in heaven. 

I actually got to set foot in this book paradise twice as I was growing up and I still remember the joy I felt digging through all the shelves. In my memory it was a huge place – who knows how big it really was, but to a little girl set loose to find all the books she wanted in an hour, it was paradise.

Now what I did spend my allowance on was comic books. My mother despised comic books, deeming them trashy and immoral (not sure why – it all went over my head at that young age) and I remember an argument between my parents every week when we drove into town to go shopping, because I had my allowance in my plastic purse and I fully intended to buy all the new issues of as many of my favorite comics as I could afford, at the drugstore. Dad was the ultimate authority in our household so I knew I’d be allowed to splurge, but Mother was Not Amused. Every week. I was stubborn. I guess their compromise was they wouldn’t pay for comics, but if I was willing to use up my allowance, okay then.

I was really into DC superheroes, Tarzan (but mostly because I loved the B feature, which was ‘Brothers of the Spear,”) Magnus Robot Hunter, and a few others that were SF or Fantasy. One year I talked them into giving me a subscription to Justice League and I remember being so happy every month when the comic showed up in the mail! I felt very adult getting ‘my’ new issue directly, not off the revolving stand at the drugstore. Of course they wouldn't let me subscribe to more than one so I was still buying others every week and when the year was over I didn't get to resubscribe either.

So there you have it!
(We won’t talk about how much of my budget disappears into Amazon’s coffers for books and ebooks nowadays…I don’t seem to buy comic books – or manga or graphic novels – any more!)