Books have always been good friends to me. Ever since I learned to read as a young child, I have devoured books, preferring them to other forms of entertainment. The voice of each book is different, and getting to know that voice is like getting to know a person intimately. My favorite authors—Sena Jeter Naslund, Charles Dickens, Robert Holdstock, to name just a few—are those whose personality shines through their work like light through a clouded window. Obscured by the story’s characters and landscapes, you can’t quite see them, but you sense them; you get an impression of them, their fingertips pressed against the pane, so that even without knowing any details of their personal, “real” lives, you’ve still shared something of their private mind.
Beyond the plot and the cast and all the goings-on, there is a numinous sense of life and intimacy that nothing can encompass as a book does. The author writes a book once, yet when one hundred different people read that book, one hundred different stories and conversations have been shared, each one specific, colored by its reader’s mind and that moment in time.
Because of this, for me there is always something exciting and a little bit frightening about sharing a beloved book with another person. I am sharing a book, yes, a story, true… but also a reflection. I’m offering a person the opportunity to possibly, just maybe, eavesdrop on a piece of that private conversation, the story as I experienced it. Because books are so intimate to me, I often contemplate sharing them with others as I would contemplate divulging a secret. Often, I shake the feeling off in the interest of letting the poor person be unburdened by my busy mind and just enjoy the durn book already. But with some books, it’s hard to let them go under someone else’s critical review.
It should come as no surprise that when I love someone, when I want to share (introverted as I am), books are often the subtle means. I’ve mentioned in the past that occasionally my mother and I have shared books with each other as a means of sharing our thoughts and those intangible bits of ourselves. Exchanged books are also prized show-and-tells between me and my mother-in-law Debbie. I recall reading short stories and essays to my Grandmother Tulou before she passed away, savoring that time, wanting to share something in those moments even when conversation ran dry.
When I met Damon and soon after fell in love with him, I wanted not only to share books with him—I still am constantly recommending books to his ridiculously long reading list!—I wanted to read to him. Love fosters an immense drive to share, to experience with, and the act of reading to someone else is offering them not only insight, but allowing them to hear your voice, your side of that otherwise private telling, and it becomes a bigger story. Damon and I read the entire Philip Pullman trilogy His Dark Materials during the early days of our courtship. Many an evening we would pass together wondering about the characters, bandying what-ifs about the story’s events, dissecting symbolism, discussing our own reactions, the things that touched us.
Those books aren’t just my books any more. They are our books—mine and Damon’s. And someday, perhaps they will be Oscar’s, too.
There was a blog post on 4 Mothers a couple weeks ago about reading to your children, and I immediately started thinking of the books I’m longing to share with Oscar: The Little Prince, the Little House books, Huckleberry Finn, Peter Pan, The Hobbit, Anne of Green Gables, Charlotte’s Web, To Kill a Mockingbird, and so many more. Already I find myself turning to the children’s sections in bookstores, wanting to fill in the gaps in my “to-read-with-Oscar” collection.
The first thing I ever read to Oscar (when he was only days old) was The Little Prince. Twice. I cried both times.
At one year old, Oscar is very much into board books, largely because they can withstand his particular brand of *ahem* up-close-and-personal toddler scrutiny. Our steady, daily diet is now made up of wonderful, wonderful books like Goodnight Moon, On the Day You Were Born, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, etc. But quietly, patiently, I’m biding my time till we can snuggle up close and share with him some of these bigger, deeper journeys, broadening Damon’s and my stories to include Oscar’s voice and visions as well.
What are some of your favorite books for reading aloud? For adults? For children?