Walk into my house and you’ll find books everywhere. They’re piled on the table, the china cabinet, the computer desk, and the buffet. They line bookshelves in the study, the living room, the upstairs bedroom. They’re crammed in beside the toilet and layered on my cookbook stand. There’s always a book in my purse, several in the diaper bag, and more lying on the couch, not to mention the floor! Suffice it to say that this is a book-loving household!
It has been a “bookish” week, with the fun “Canada Reads” debates happening on CBC and Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday just yesterday. I like that; I find it refreshing, since the subject of real books so often seems overshadowed these days by the hype over technology. (Sorry, but eReaders just don’t cut it for me!) Books have shaped me tremendously in life. Growing up by a lake in the middle of the forest with no year-round neighbours, weekly visits to the library were what sustained me. They were a free plane ticket around the world for me, as a young girl who longed to travel but couldn’t. I must have read “Arabian Nights” a dozen times over the years. Narnia, Laura Ingalls Wilder, L.M. Montgomery, and Elizabeth George Speare were great favourites. I inhaled historical fiction, but anything with a travel theme was devoured just as quickly. Once I found a book about a Canadian guy who joined a camel caravan and crossed the Sahara. I paid so many overdue fines on that book that I probably could have bought it several times over! I just couldn’t take it back.
Now my kids and I make weekly pilgrimages to the library. It’s an ordeal – dressing for the cold, packing the toddler into the stroller while he kicks and protests that he’d rather walk (but I can’t let him because it would take us an hour!), stuffing the chubby baby into the front carrier, and lugging the bag of books. We walk three blocks and erupt into the peaceful calm of the building, greeting the friendly librarians and selecting whatever new books I think I can stomach five times daily for the next two weeks!
Books are a necessity in our home. Without a TV, that’s what we turn to for entertainment. By nine months, my son had specific favourites that he loved reading, mostly Sandra Boynton’s wonderful tales. When he started talking, he memorized and recited them. Now we’re onto full-length storybooks – classics like Madeline, Curious George, and Babar, as well as stories by Robert McCloskey, Chris van Allsburg, and of course, Richard Scarry. His attention span astonishes me. He can sit for an hour, listening and studying the pictures and asking questions. He reads on the potty, at the table, before bed, and any time in between when I’ll take the time. There are days when I beg him to play with his toys so I can take a break from reading!
That’s why I feel sad when I walk into a house that’s bereft of books. It’s too sterile for my liking. Shelves filled with those wonderfully multi-coloured, irregularly-shaped volumes make any home feel warmer, more interesting and beautiful, but without books, there are no dead giveaways about the personalities of the people who inhabit it. There’s nothing for me to skim through and peruse while waiting, nothing to discuss when conversation stagnates. Books are wonderful windows to the world that deserve a central place in our lives because, ultimately, they make us better people. If I can someday walk into my kids’ homes and find piles of books all over the place, I’ll feel a deep sense of satisfaction. I will have given them the ability to know the world from within their own homes, and I believe that to be a tremendous gift.