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.
I still have a few of those treasured books on the shelf: Mother Goose, The Golden Book of Poetry, and one I bought at an elementary school book sale – Barbie, Midge, and Ken.
I had another children’s poetry book that had a poem in it called The Elephant and the Telephone. It was about an elephant that got tangled up in a telephone cord. He became an elephone in a telephant.
In high school, I graduated to gothic and romantic mysteries with Phyllis Whitney and Mary Roberts Rinehart being my favorites.
I, too, am a big fan of Amelia Peabody and her family.
My childhood was less about books, more about song. I did not come from a spiritual home, but something about Jesus caught my imagination as a young boy and I would cycle for miles in pursuit of what He stirred in my young heart. When I had my own sons to raise, I read to them every day. Their favorite was the full set of the Narnia Chronicles and our most memorable quote was, “He is not a tame lion”: an idea I now aptly attribute to my redeemer, the only hero I retained from my childhood years.
I knew there was a reason I liked you, Karen — we love many of the same authors 🙂
That Pooh quote is one of my favorites.
In this Advent season, I’m often remembering a brief poem by Madeleine L’Engle in her book “The Irrational Season”
“This is the irrational season
when love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason,
there’d have been no room for the child.”
Crazy, but I didn’t read any fiction as a child. No one introduced me to the good ones so I watched TV for story (Ugh!) and sought fact in my books. It wasn’t til I was almost twenty that I started reading fiction and now I’m hopelessly hooked. Had to go back to read the classics, late in life. Love the Chronicles of Narnia, anything my Jane Austen , and definitely Georgette Heyer!!! Two of my favorite books ever are by George MacDonald, though they were renamed by the editor, The Baronet’s Song and The Maiden’s Bequest. Love deep,rich and varied characters. Loved the voice in To Kill A Mockingbird. My children will benefit from the dearth of my fiction reading as a child!!!
Connie, it’s like you and I are related! I am a child of the seventies and disappeared into television instead of books as a child!
I watched WAY TOO MUCH TV. But I do agree with Karen that you still can learn to tell a compelling story from television. I love to share a novel or watch a program with my daughter (ten y.o) and discuss what we loved or didn’t love about the story. She’ll come to me with a book and show me where the author had a dark cloud above a character in a scene wrought with foreboding, and get all excited about how the author did that. She was my inspiration to write, having written a few “chapter books” herself already :o).
I never really enjoyed fiction as a child. I read “Where the Red Fern Grows” and the Henry Higgins books, but only because they were assigned. I loved reading, but preferred non-fiction as a child…and even today!
Ironically, I write children’s fiction and have started a YA series, but I am just now getting into reading fiction.
I love to disappear into a good history book, biography, or autobiography. My favorite subject is WWII. My grandfather gave me a LIFE book about WWII when I was in 8th grade, and I have been hooked on historical facts ever since.
But now I do enjoy escaping into a magical world. Am reading the Harry Potter series for the first time. Will revisit the Narnia series soon (I recommend Will Vaus’ books on C.S. Lewis as a companion), and many more to come.
THE book that I have loved all my life is “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle. When I was in about 5th grade, it was so popular we had to wait our turn to check it out of the school library. Back then I loved everything about it including the little romance between Meg and Calvin. Imagine my surprise to re-read it as an adult and find Mrs. Who often spoke Scripture. Nice.
Oh, yes! How could I have neglected to mention Madeline L’Engle? She’s wonderful, and I have most, if not all, of her works, fiction and nonfiction.
And for those of you who relied on TV for story, that’s perfectly fine. I loved books, but I also loved TV. As writers, we can learn so much from TV about telling a powerful story. And about writing for visual effect.
Janet Ann Collins
When I was a little kid my parents read to me every night. Two of my favorite books were The Pokey Little Puppy and Bambi. When I learned to read I devoured books at the library and had a few of my own, including the Heidi series, Little House on the Prairie, and The Wizard of Oz. I became a bookaholic, which I still am and I never want to get in recovery.
Anita Mae Draper
Karen, I congratulate you for keeping your first books. There aren’t many who can say that.
My all-time fav kids’ book is the Poky Little Puppy although we never owned a copy.
I still have the first book I received, too, though. When I was 10 yrs old, I sat beneath the Christmas tree fingering the gift from my 7 yr old brother. A book, I guessed, from the way the pages were shallower than the covers. But considering that he gave my older sister a wind-up mouse, all sorts of weird ideas went through my mind as to the book’s content. On Christmas morning, I opened the wrapping to find a mystery – an adventure about kids my own age who go in search of clues. I showed it to my sons last year when I was moving books from the house to my new office in the garage. I didn’t want to move them, but hubby said something about wanting to see the walls for a change and moved my bookcases out. I can’t complain – I got a new office out of the deal. 😀
Joseph M Kurtenbach
Karen, thank you for this! I can’t believe it. Last week when I read your quotes, I almost wrote to ask you if the one was from Patricia McKillip’s Riddle Master trilogy! It sounded so much like someone talking to Morgon, but I thought, No, it can’t be. I recently reread those books; just reading the quote again gives me goose bumps. That trilogy is among my all time favorite stories. I didn’t find my love of fantasy until I was in my twenties, however. In my teen years, my favorites were Jules Verne and Jack London. How fortunate I’ve been!