Confessions Of A Bibliophile

By Steve Griffen

 

Without books, I could not have survived. I would surely have been locked away as a danger to myself and others. In my padded cell, I’m sure I would have howled endlessly and ripped my own flesh. When I was too young for school, the only book around the house was the family Bible. I pestered my grandmother endlessly to read me the stirring stories from the Old Testament.

Over the years and countless hours, I sat in my grandmother’s lap and watched and listened to her read. Daniel, Joseph, David, Ruth, Esther, Nimrod, Jonah, Samson, Moses, Ezekiel, Abraham Isacc, Jacob and Essau, et. All were as familiar and real to me as our family pets .

I could soon follow along a step ahead as I had memorized all the wondrous tales, pretending to be reading. Without either of us realizing it, I actually was learning to read. She was not a skilled reader. She read each word separately and pronounced each syllable carefully. I began to identify the word above her tracing finger before she pronounced it, and began to recognize the sound each word made according to its configuration of letters, and its shape and size. I had an adumbrated knowledge of phonics and a sizeable store of sight recognition words before I began first grade at age six.

With such a head-start into the magic of reading, Dick and Jane were far too soft a fare for my word hungry mind. I was fortunate my first grade teacher understood and gave me the tales of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm. I loved those folk tales. They reminded me so much of the stories my grandmother and I had read from her Bible, what with young boys confronting giants, animals talking, and people living inside whales.

By the time I had finished the second grade, I had read every book in our school’s library, grades one through four. Some, like Bullfinch’s Mythology, the Oz books and the Black Stallion series of Walter Farley, I had reread many times.

My sainted third-grade teacher took pity on me. She drove me after school one day to our small town public library and gave me the greatest gift I have ever received, my very own library card which she signed for and took responsibility for any damage, loss or overdue fines I might incur. She was never out a cent. I treated the books with reverence while devouring them voraciously. The two week loan with a seven book limit rarely lasted out the week.

One of my happiest childhood memories is walking out of the library each week with an armload of new treasures. Balancing the pile of books in my arms, I would begin reading the topmost one, trusting my feet to find their own way, as my eyes were too busy feeding my imagination to bother noticing the path.

Unless there was a pickup game going on of football, basketball or baseball, games I loved almost as much as books, I would read until called to dinner and after until bedtime. Sometimes I’d sneak a flashlight under the covers and read until I fell asleep. Much of my meager allowance went to buy AA batteries instead of the usual baseball cards or Baby Ruth candy bars.

People who see me, most always with a book in hand often suggest I should get a Kindle and have access to books without the time and effort of browsing through bookstores or journeying to a library, to this day, a weekly pilgrimage. I’ve considered it, but I’m a book addict. I crave the feel of a book in my hands and the rhythm of turning pages.

I love books so beautiful and evocative many passages must be read and reread to savor and reflect upon before turning a page almost reluctantly, as one hesitates to swallow a wine so exquisite it dances in the mouth. These are the books less avid readers might warn you from as being too descriptive, or too lacking in action.

I love books whose action is so compelling one can hardly turn the pages fast enough, books that have my heart racing so, I must pause occasionally and catch my breath and remind myself my own life is really in no danger.

I love books whose characters resemble no one I have ever known, whose plots are totally alien to my experience, whose settings are unlike any place I have ever seen. I feel like an explorer might upon first viewing an undiscovered land. Some of the books I have most loved are ones someone told me I wouldn’t like. Because they were “chick books.”

I know many people survive and seem to be content, who rarely, if ever read a book, who believe poetry an unnecessary affectation, who do not love the richness and subtlety of words, who do not think it terrible when language is maimed or misappropriated to foul ends. I know this, but I do not understand.

Emily Dickinson, one of my favorite poets, loved books and the magic of language. She wrote: “There is no Frigate like a Book,/ To take us Lands away/ Nor any Coursers like a Page/ Of prancing Poetry/ This Traverse may the poorest make/ Without oppress of Toll./ How frugal is the Chariot/ That bears the Human Soul.”

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