What are the books in the library of my life? This was the prompt from last week’s writing group along with a choice of ten words or more from a lengthy selection.
This last few months have been a quiet time for me. Though I have continued writing, because thankfully I am in several writing groups, I have not posted or published anything.
There is so much to say and yet there is nothing to say amidst the ironic noise that has become part of our more isolated lives. The library had become one of my most enjoyable jaunts and watching its closure for a major portion of this shutdown, I not only found myself not writing but barely reading. Glued to the news and scrolling my phone, I became someone I barely recognized, spiritually.
Today is the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Though I am barely religious, my spirituality is important and the Jewish Holidays often give me the prompt I need to re engineer my soul. I find myself being less directed by the religious directives and more often use the holidays for some deep self reflection. Take what you need and leave the rest is more often how I approach my religion these days. Writing is certainly an important aspect of my self reflection so today, I finally sit down and get a piece together for an actual post.
What are the books that make up the library of ones life? Just listing out the books that have been the most influential was too obvious. As I approached the prompt, I realized that there were so many childhood books I adored reading and just as many that I read to my son.
I never know where a prompt will take me and one of the blessings of being in a weekly writing group is the discipline of writing and improving my ability to communicate effectively and less bloggy.
This piece was the end result of the prompt.
THE LIBRARY OF MY LIFE
I can still feel the stubble of the father’s beard, the smell of the book like baby powder, the look in the mirror and see yourself page with the shiny tinfoil rectangle resembling a mirror, albeit a warped one. Pat the Bunny was a staple book in my early library that I couldn’t get enough of. Endlessly gifting it to new mamas in the hope this old fashioned book wouldn’t change so it would be more ‘pc,’ As an adult, every time I purchased this book as a gift, I could almost feel myself on my mother’s lap.
ABC, Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss books were revolutionary and a creative force in an otherwise traditional world of picture books. Parents cringing at the perpetual requests for rereading the same books every single night, likely not realizing that this very repetition would teach us little beings the memorization of words resulting in the feeling that we could actually read the books. To this day, I can see one of the many original Dr. Suess books and be transported into my little world of 1969. A simple time in my mind, but meanwhile all around me, and thankfully unbeknownst to me, were protests, civil unrest, assassinations, war, and man landing on the fucking moon.
Grandma, please read this to me. It was the newest Richard Scary book about words and it was, apparently, very progressive. To a five year old, however, I didn’t know about modern books. My progressive grandmother did though, and she loved buying them and reading them to me. And I loved being at her house feeling her loving adoring heart for me. Fortunate to have two amazing grandmothers who insisted on supplying me with endless books and exposing me to culture, being read to was a memory for me early on.
Growing up in the seventies, shows like Zoom and Electric Company were the fabric of my little being. Outgrowing Mr Rogers and Captain Kangaroo, these two shows shook up my ideas of television exposing our young selves to songs that we can still remember. Out of these shows came the hippy culture of Free to Be You and Me, created by the likes of Marlo Thomas who apparently felt like children needed their mello Dick and Janes turned upside down.
Alayne, Alayne, where are you? I could hear my two aunts looking for me in my grandparents large apartment on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. I froze. I wasn’t missing. I was hiding in their bedroom closet after finding a juicy book on their book shelf in plain view. A book, if you can call it that, filled with the most bizarre pictures of women peeing on each other, and lots of things my little nine year old imagination hadn’t thought about before. I instinctively knew I was definitely not supposed to be looking at this book filled with taboo subjects I didn’t even know were part of the space I called my world. Hence the hiding out in the closet.
I didn’t know why I wasn’t more squeamish reading this, but my curiosity in question was why on earth would people pee on each other, why would there be pictures of this and why would my aunt have this book on a shelf in her bedroom?
I sneaked out quick and carefully placed the book back on the shelf, gingerly making my way back into the smoke filled kitchen of my two aunts, my grandmother, and my mother. I had many questions. Did my mother know about this book? Did my grandmother? I felt a little dirty, ashamed, like I had just done something I was definitely not permitted to and there was no one I could speak to about what I had just witnessed.
At the same time, my love of Nancy Drew books where every other sentence seemed to be Nancy exclaimed was a far cry from women peeing on each other. Perhaps this is why the book in the closet was so fascinating to a nine year old already sexually charged girl.
You can’t get your head out of that book, my mother said to me sort of like a question of curiosity rather than the statement it sounded like. Haven’t you read that book already? I shrugged as so many ten and eleven year olds do when they just simply don’t think their mother could possibly understand.
I was reading Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret for about the sixth time, by Judy Blume. This book was a replacement part for what my mother should have been talking to me about, periods, first bras and boys, but Judy Blume somehow managed to fill in for her as I learned that I wasn’t the only girl out there with these juvenile feelings. I never knew that these feelings were perfectly normal until I read Judy Blume books.
Diary of Anne Frank is still with me. One of my most cherished books, I still feel Anne’s voice in my spirit, every time I throw away a scrap of food, especially a potato, I think of Anne Frank and her adolescent life in hiding. This was a perfect book to read in seventh grade because it reminded me of how good our lives were. Anne inadvertently taught me that journaling was not something I had to do every single day to be a good diary keeper. I owe my writing and journaling to her influence.
1984, Animal Farm, The Invisible Man, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Mrs. Nixon, Ms Ariigi, Smoking pot, complete family disruption, North Kingstown, Jamestown, Brookline back to Jamestown. Divorce sucked. Never recovered.
Did it. Graduated. Made it. Not sure how. Can’t remember reading anything. Just drugs, sex drinking, out of control. Books? No. Maybe magazines? No recollections.
Louise Hay. Wayne Dyer. Marianne Williamson. A new look at how life could be when you change the way you look at things. Headed into my twenties with a new set of glasses. My glasses have changed hundreds of times, my reading choices have changed too, but like a new set of eye glasses, I can never get enough books either.
The crinkling sound of the library book in my hands is pleasure beyond measure. I seldom buy a book except when the library was closed. Libraries were a part of my young life and in full circle from my grandmother holding the book in her hands in the morning while her hair was wrapped in a pink turban to protect her curls from doing whatever they do overnight, munching on Pepperidge Farm thin white toast and scrambled eggs, I am with her reading no matter where I am.
That unmistakable sound of the protective plastic cover opening and closing makes me feel like she is on my lap this time.