A book person. That’s what I’ve always been. I learned how to read early and started collecting books before I started school. During my early years, when we lived in Jacksonville, my parents would drop me at the Anniston public library and museum while they went shopping. I felt like I knew all the items in the museum on a first-name basis and, almost 70 years later, still remember its faintly musty smell. I always visited the mummies first, then wandered to the stuffed animals, the harpsichord, and my other friends and finally to My Spot among the books. I remember getting my first library card there when I was six and checking out my first Hans Christian Andersen book, The Little Mermaid, by myself. Several years ago, I was disappointed to learn that this wonderful old building in Anniston had been demolished but am pleased that the new museum still houses some of my old friends.
We moved to Auburn when I was ten, and I was thrilled to find that my father’s office was next to the college library, there was a great bookstore two blocks away, and the public library was in the same block as the bookstore. In a tiny, second-floor children’s library, I discovered Jules Verne and Agatha Christie under the supervision of a kindly woman whose name I have unfortunately forgotten. (She was such a great influence on me—you’d think I could at least remember her name!) The school librarian was Mrs. Francis, who assigned enjoyable library tasks to the new kid in town. That year I read The Robe, The Magnificent Obsession, all the Sue Barton, Student Nurse books, and a lame sport series that included Blocking Back, but I had to hide under the sheet to read Gone with the Wind with a flashlight. Unfortunately, I cried so hard at the end that my mother heard me and punished me for reading a forbidden book.
For years I collected the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and The Hardy Boys, and the less-known Five Little Peppers series. Oh, and the Miss Minerva and William Green Hill books! And of course I had the Louisa May Alcott books. Pollyanna. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Cricket: A Little Girl of the Old West. When I married and left home, Mama gave away all my books that were “cluttering up” the house. Sigh. But I've found a few of these titles in flea markets over the decades.
I love books. I love libraries and bookstores. I love the way books make my hands feel and my eyes smile. Imagine my surprise when I learned that I also love to read on my Kindle! Tired of tripping on the stack of paperbacks on my bedroom floor (because there was no more room on the shelves), I began to read books on my Kindle (first generation, October 2008) and now on my Kindle Fire. And also on the Kindle apps on my cell phone and two computers.
Visualize a laundry room. Mine is not typical. In addition to its clothes responsibilities, this fairly large room with tall ceilings has an additional function in my dilapidated old house: It is my library. The walls are covered in shelves. So when two rooms were recently remodeled and repainted, all books had to be removed from the laundry room shelves. The guys randomly threw everything in boxes, and when there were no more boxes, stacked the books throughout the house. And then covered everything in heavy white dust from sheetrock and ceramic tile.
It was a forced, perfect time to analyze which books could continue to live here. Getting rid of all college textbooks? A no-brainer. They were so outdated that they were useless, so they hit the garbage can. Cans. And I actually had fun trashing the old curriculum and ed psych books. And statistics! I didn’t like them then, don’t need them now, wonder why I kept them so long, and then remember, oh, yeah, because it takes time and effort to make such decisions. Most of my beloved English-teacher books (anthologies and volumes on teaching composition and literature) went to the Teacher Resource Center in Columbus—two trips with the mini-van so overloaded that it wobbled. The BK (before Kindle) contemporary books went to a local charity. Boxes and boxes, outta here. Don’t even miss them. I still have too many books on the shelves, for example, too many really OLD books, not valuable but just old enough to be interesting. To me. And I haven’t even started on the shelves in the other rooms. Or the tall stack behind the door in the dining room.
Now I can check in on Amazon (is this beginning to sound like a commercial?) to see all the books I have read in recent years—well, nearly all of them. And this circuitous journey takes me to what’s on my mind today: a recent strand in my reading. (I always have several strands going at one time; for example, right now my second strand is historical fiction about medieval England.)
Within the last year, I’ve gotten into World War II, the Pacific Theater. Unbroken (sub-title: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand, 2010) is amazing. It also is about much more than a battle in the Pacific Theater. When I told my brother-in-law Don about this excellent book, he recommended Flyboys (sub-title: A True Story of Courage, by James Bradley, 2003). From there, I bounced to Flags of Our Fathers (by Ron Powers and James Bradley, 2000).*
In the latter book, I met General Howlin’ Mad Smith, a person of great interest to me beyond my fascination with World War II. A historic marker (http://seale.starketech.com/markers/smith.htm) on my property in Seale indicates his birthplace—an amusing proclamation since according to his autobiography, Coral and Brass, he was born in Hatchechubbee, a few miles down the road in Russell County. His family later moved to Seale, and he graduated from nearby Alabama Polytechnic Institute (Auburn) in 1901. He died in 1967 and left a small bequest to the Seale United Methodist Church.
*I like checking out movies that relate to my books. The title Flyboys is sometimes confused with a movie that takes place in WW I France and also The Flyboys, about two stowaways. Unbroken will soon be a movie. I have ordered a Flags of Our Fathers DVD and have Letters from Iwo Jima on my Netflix instant queue. I am currently exploring a somewhat related strand on Netflix: “Non-battle” WW II movies. Examples: Island at War (occupation of a channel island), Wish Me Luck and Charlotte Gray (British spies in France), The Aryan Couple and Sarah’s Key (Jewish persecution), and Land Girls (Women's Land Army).