At age three, I memorized “Madeline” down to the page turns and convinced my mother I had learned to read. That is, until, impressed with her little genius, she handed me another book, and I began to recite, “In an old house in Paris, all covered with vines.” That’s when the jig was up.
Still, this was the sign that I was ready to read, and they began teaching me. By the time I reached the first grade, I was devouring Nancy Drew books. I still vividly remember getting busted with “The Quest for the Missing Map” under my desk during math class. Though you wouldn’t know it now, I was a very shy kid. Maybe it was because of the shuttling back and forth in the wake of my parents’ divorce when I was five, but I didn’t have all that many good friends as a young kid. Books were my constant companion. I could be found up at early hours, eager to get back to reading. When upset, when frightened, when stressed, I could be found reading.
At some point, my parents started paying me to memorize poems (and my father wonders how I ended up an English major despite his best scientist efforts…), and one I memorized was this one, by Emily Dickinson:
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 take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!
The last line about the human soul particularly resonates with me because books have sustained my soul in the roughest of times. Some even became old friends that I revisited over and over again, their familiar words becoming a constant source of comfort, like “Little Women.” Some even became like diaries, with my thoughts scribbled in the margins. At some point, I began underlining particularly poignant or interesting passages, a habit I’m now unable to break. For me, books are interactive things.
Which is why a blog I found via Andrew Sullivan is particularly interesting to me. It’s called Forgotten Bookmarks, and is written by a used bookstore employee, cataloging the things found left behind in used books, things like postcards and photographs and scrawled notes-to-self. It has me wondering about books I’ve read and passed on along the way (I have a habit of giving away books to strangers on occasion), and what I could have left behind, and whether anyone has found these things.