During middle school we were in interim, living in my grandparent’s house on the lake while my parents got established. The majority of the house was filled with my grandparent’s stuff – beautiful paintings and a baby grand piano, old books in the built-in bookcases and what seemed like infinite numbers of classical music recordings. As an adolescent, those bookcases seemed vast. They covered a wall, floor to ceiling and most of the books were dusty and smelled like mildew. There was a section of Agatha Christie books – my grandmother’s favorite – and another section of taller, more regal and intimidating hardback books with names straight from the course catalog of an engineering school: Thermodynamics and Single particle Newtonian Dynamics. These were my grandfather’s books.
When I was very small, we never had a television and so I read. Reading, for me, was life-changing. It was love at first sight; my first romance. I remember on a physical level, what it felt like when the letters finally came together to form words and words to form sentences. I read everything there was: the label on the ketchup jar, advertisements on the side of the road and books, of course. At my grandparent’s house there was only a television for watching movies – sparingly – so again, I read.
First, I read the books that were most familiar to me, the ones I had arrived with: Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables. And then I started reading the books in those bookcases. I read those Agatha Christie books that were way over my head as far as comprehension, and not my favorite genre anyway, but had the alluring quality of making me feel closer to my grandmother somehow. I read a series of books called The Bomba Books which were published in the 1920s and 30s, filled with racism, and gave me shocking insight to a strange world where people were totally open and free with their prejudice. I read comic books left there by my aunts and uncles and was confused about Archie and Jughead, mostly wondering why people thought they were funny. I opened those engineering books, mystified by their pages, noticing how the spines cracked audibly as they were opened. And then I closed them, deeply inhaling the musty smell as they closed. These were a chapter of someone else’s life.
To be continued…