I can still remember the smell of the bookmobile that came to our neighborhood every two weeks when I was growing up. Those well-worn hard cover books have a smell that is distinct from paperbacks–kind of like a pungent cheese. Throughout my teen years, I walked to the corner where the bookmobile would be, my brother and sister in tow. Urging them to quicken their steps, I was eager to get there to find out what new books were waiting within.
Once inside, I would go immediately to the S section and look for Steinbeck, my favorite author at the time. Through his writings, I left my middle class neighborhood and traveled to places like Cannery Row and Tobacco Road. I cheered for the downtrodden, who were being exploited by the unscrupulous. Not really expecting a happy ending, I was always dissatisfied with the outcome.
It was sort of a fluke that I started reading Steinbeck in the first place. I was in advanced junior English when we were assigned to read either Lloyd C. Douglas’s The Robe, or a Steinbeck novel. (I don’t remember which one.) As there was some doubt as to whether I belonged in advanced English, I was strongly urged to read The Robe. (I had a solid B in that class, but as my counselor reminded me regularly I was really a C student in spite of the A’s and B’s I was earning. But that’s another story.) As I was easily intimidated and in awe of teachers I did as she suggested. But I continued to be intrigued by the idea of reading Steinbeck. So I checked out a book and was instantly hooked.
As a young reader I think I did a fair job of devouring everything in my school library. I loved Doctor Dolittle and hoped secretly that I would some day meet up with a pushmi-pullu. I read all the Beverly Cleary novels and spent hours with the March girls in Little Women. I read Little House on the Prairie and Ann of Green Gables. I loved going to places and times I could never really visit and meeting people I could never really know.
For a while, every summer, I would read an Alexander Dumas novel. When I finished The Three Musketeers, I said, “Where is it?” I plowed back through the pages, looking for it. Somehow I had missed the words, “One for all and all for one.” I always intended to read it again and pay better attention. When I read The Man in the Iron Mask, I was surprised that Philippe was placed back in the mask and returned to the island. Apparently no movie producers could live with the ending as Dumas penned it. In every movie I’ve seen, it was always Louis who ended up in the mask. My favorite Dumas novel was The Count of Monte Cristo–definitely on my re-read list.
I still recall my sadness when I finished the last page of the last Jane Austen novel, knowing there would be no more. The longest book I’ve ever read is Anna Karenina. I would love to read it again, but I have so many more books I haven’t read, that I doubt I’ll have time. (Actually Moby Dick is longer, but I don’t want to read it again.) I’ve been looking at lists of 100 must-read books to see what I’ve missed. I’ve already read many of them. I hope I have time to read the rest.