Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Marking Our Place: Taking Twain’s Words to Heart

My earliest memories with books are those of sitting on my bed in our Oklahoma farmhouse reading The Tall Book of Mother Goose over and over again. I soon knew every poem and every detail of every illustration by heart. I kept the book for years, but over countless moves from one state to another it eventually disappeared. I recently ran across a copy of the original 1942 version by Feodor Rojankovsky for sale on Amazon. I purchased it, wanting to hold it in my hands again and to share it with our grandchildren.

After my Mother Goose days, the The Wizard of Oz thrilled me, Daphne duMaurier’s Rebecca and Don’t Look Now intrigued me, The Grapes of Wrath and The Good Earth fascinated me, I explored the Australian Outback in The Thorn Birds and laughed out loud at Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth. But, although these and other books entertained me, I eventually began to see beyond the surface of the page and understand how books could impact my life in a deeper way. One of the first sparks of this realization was ignited by my Grandmother Viola who, more than thirty years ago, sent me a homemade bookmark.

She had cut a long rectangle from plain white piece of cardboard, punched a hole in one end, threaded a piece of green yarn through the hole, then knotted the ends and added a spidery tassel. Along the length of the bookmark, in aged arthritic jerks, she inked this Mark Twain quote:

Those who do not read have no advantage over those who can’t.

She mailed the bookmark to me in a 35-cent paperback copy of Human Destiny by Pierre Lecomte du Noüy. And like instructions one might leave a house sitter, she had taped a note across its front cover which stated, “Worth reading thoughtfully.”


My grandmother lived her message of the importance of reading. For as long as I can remember she read voraciously, always sitting tall in a hard, straight-backed chair in her living room, reading daily until, eventually, the clouds of cataracts became too dense. As I grew older I enjoyed sitting and talking with her at length because she knew so many things about so many topics. Having come from a time when children were often told not to speak until spoken to, my grandmother had entered the world through books, discovering that books documented life—its mysteries, its dreams, its facts, its ideas.

With the influence of my grandmother, school and others around me, I learned that reading can take us to new horizons and expand our thinking about what is possible in life. It shows us how others live and have lived in other cultures. It takes us to places we may never visit. It exercises our minds and stretches our ideas; improves our vocabulary and creativity. It grows our knowledge base and builds our self-esteem. It improves our memory, writing skills, and allows us to compare our thoughts and ideas with others. It is an excellent, inexpensive, and easily accessible resource for self education as it helps fill in the blanks of the world around us and shows us the possibilities of want we can become.

On his website Natural Bias, lifestyle coach and consultant Vin Miller makes this point about the value of reading in his article titled, How Reading Can Change Your Life:

Many scientists and other types of researchers spend much of their lives chasing down the answer to a single question. If we had to go through this much effort every time we were faced with a significant challenge, chances are that we wouldn’t accomplish much. Fortunately, many of the world’s most intelligent people share their many years of wisdom in books that cost less than what most people earn in a single hour.

Today people experience books in a variety of formts that include print, audio and digital forms. Many public libraries are now lending ebooks. And, thousands of free literature classics and instructional materials are available for downloading and reading from other sources. Some popular resources include:

I keep the bookmark my grandmother made hanging on the wall beside my desk. I don’t pretend to read as much or as consistently as she did, but her memory inspires me to keep moving forward. The bookmark reminds me of her influence and how she has helped me mark my place in life. She understood that books hold the world between their covers and it is ours simply for the taking.


elizabethbrinton said...

Your grandmother looks like such a wonderful person. I loved this post and I am so happy to see that you still have the bookmark. When I have grandchildren, I shall craft book marks. Thank you, Nancy.

Kathy Cooney Dobbs said...

Sharing your earliest memory of Mother Goose and Wizard of Oz, books that prompted your early love of reading - your grandmother, and the bookmark she gave you, is not only endearing, but connects with, and encourages readers of all ages, and writers of memoir. Thank you, Nancy!

Norm de Ploom said...

Wow! What a wonderful tribute to your grandmother and to the importance and pleasures of reading. Writing North Idaho readers benefit from Grandma Viola because she helped make you the good writer you are today. My mom was my "Viola."

I appreciate the links for free e-books. The speaker at the last ID Writers League meeting spoke about getting free e-books on Amazon to download to our computers. I downloaded an oldie "Goody Two Shoes" which was delightful. The Community Library Network (formerly Kootenai Shoshone Libraries) opened their new department-ebook "check outs"- on Oct. 3. It is easy to use via instructions on their web site. Thanks for your information. Not having a Kindle, I was unaware of Project Gutenberg.