by Karen Ball
As promised last week, during this Christmas season, I want to share with you all the immeasurable gifts I’ve found in the wondrous world of words. So…
Welcome to my office!
The entrance is, as you can see, humble. But what delights I find inside! So let’s slip past my four-legged greeters (Kirby, our Corgi is welcoming you in today), to the first room, which holds not only a table for work and conversation, fellowship and study, but one of the most important elements of my office: the coffee corner! I start each day here, brewing some special creation that will not only energize me for work but fills my office with the delectable fragrance of dark-roasted coffee.
The first of my many bookshelves rests in the kitchen. This unit holds the books I’ve loved longest. On the top, nestled amongst pictures of family and friends, are the very first books I was ever given: a Nutshell Library of Maurice Sendak books, which started me on the path to learning both numbers and letters (A alligators all around…); A Little, Little Golden Book, We Like Kindergarten, which took me on a journey with Carol as she went to kindergarten for the first time, and, my favorite, a Tiny Tales book, If I Were… (If I were a robin redbreast, I’d merrily fly and sing…). It was in these books that I first discovered my love for words and imagination. From hearing my parents read them, then learning to read myself—Oh! Wonder!—these books propelled me on to ever greater stories, stories that, though they carried me around the world, sit contained on this small wooden shelf. All I have to do is read the titles and names on the spines, and the stories come to life again. Trixie Belden and the BobWhites, the Miss Bianca books (the originals, not the Disney version), The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Phyllis Whitney, Victoria Holt, Peter S. Beagle (“The unicorn lived in a lilac wood…”), Jane Eyre, To Kill a Mockingbird, Georgette Heyer, Elizabeth Peters (“And what happened next, dear reader, is none of your business…”), The Little Prince (in both English and French), Grace Livingston Hill, C.S. Lewis, Winnie the Pooh (and Tigger!), Edgar Rice Burrough (was any so brave as John Carter from Mars?)…these authors and characters brought me such joy!
In their company, I discovered myself.
Some of the quotes I shared last week come from these early loves:
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
–C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I actually read this book in installments, in the Sunday School paper, which carried a chapter a week. You can imagine my delight when I realized there were more books to follow!
“I am what I am. I would tell you what you want to know if I could, for you have been kind to me. But I am a cat, and no cat anywhere ever gave anyone a straight answer.”
–Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn. This magical novel instilled in me a deep love of unicorns. I collected them for years, long before they were popular. And as fanciful as it may be, I’m hoping against hope that maybe…just maybe…I’ll see a unicorn in eternity.
“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered. “Yes, Piglet?” “Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
–A.A. Milne, Winne-the-Pooh. I spent countless hours wandering the Hundred Acre Wood with Christopher Robin and his little bear, and learned of life and friendship and faith.
“If you have no faith in yourself, then have faith in the things you call truth. You know what must be done. You may not have courage or trust or understanding or the will to do it, but you know what must be done. You can’t turn back. There is now answer behind you. You fear what you cannot name. So look at it and find a name for it. Turn your face forward and learn. Do what must be done.”
–Patricia McKillip, The Riddlemaster of Hed. I discovered fantasy and scifi novels in middle school, and fell in love with this series. The whole concept of knowing and cherishing your true name still resonates today.
“Is it not unsupportable to be held down to a canter when you long to gallop for miles?”
–Georgette Heyer, The Grand Sophy. Heyer introduced me to a whole new world of historical romances, and I’ve never been the same!
So how about you? As you prepare for Christmas this year, a season so enriched by the wonder of words and story, take a moment to remember your own early days of reading. In childhood, what stories first caught your imagination? What characters first moved and delighted you? In middle school, what writers caught your imagination? In high school, what words from books planted themselves within, nestling deep in your heart and mind?
I look forward to reading your thoughts. And stay tuned for next week, when we venture from the kitchen into the office proper. I’ve many more friends nestling on their shelves, waiting to meet you. To confirm what writers and readers alike know:
There are few things so powerful in our lives as words.