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August 3, 2020

Window on the World Column: The books that made me

By Lucy Jensen, Soledad Columnist

One of my earliest memories was my mother’s voice. I was on her lap and she was reading to me. We were likely in our cottage by the sea with a fire blazing in the hearth. She had a good strong reading voice with superb inflexion and read to me all the time. I loved to listen to her. The Beatrix Potter collection was an early firm favorite — with the animal characters so interesting and complex — accompanied by divine illustrations.

I still have some of those very worn little books; some of them with my younger sister’s crayon graffiti inside, just in case I ever thought something was really mine. I also still have my childhood “Orlando, the Marmalade Cat,” a deliciously imaginative story about an orange cat and his family who live in Owlborough-on-Sea — a play on the little seaside town where I grew up. For forever and a day, Mum gave that book to whoever was having a baby. It was an absolute must-have. Still is.

The classics “A Little Princess” and the “Secret Garden” by Frances Hodges Burnett were read so many times by me that their covers and dog-eared pages were deeply imprinted on my brain. I could only imagine how devastating it would be to be an orphan, alone in the world with no one really wanting you. I do remember how safe and fortunate it made me feel that I had a loving family that would never abandon me in that way.

“A Little White Horse” was another beloved novel that began my love of the magic white horse that stays with me to this day. I can still re-read all these books from my formative years and I am back there in the mind of a young girl.

Books are fundamental to a good education, in my opinion. I read to my girl when she was still in the womb and brought her up as a reader with stories every night before bed. She was not plunked in front of an electronic babysitter; at least, full disclosure, not often. The evening was our time to read together and relax before bed. In grade school, she entered the Countywide Spelling Bee and did very well.

Often I would be reading the same story over and over to her and then she began to want to read to me. “The Story of Ping,” “You Are Not My Mother,” “Peep-Po,” “Junie B. Jones” … the list goes on and on. One summer I challenged her to read 100 books from the library and she did. I do believe her prize was a large soft dog. To this day, she is a most excellent speller.

I’m working on my granddaughter also being a phenomenal reader. She loves the late-night cuddle and story time as well; the time that you just devote to her without outside influence or noise or banter. It is so important that we give that time to the growing young minds. When Madison Rose last stayed with us, “Are You My Mother” had to be read three times in a row. She would giggle a lot. “Read it again,” she’d say. “Read it again.” And I would.

My sister Rosie tried to wean me on to the Kindle. I hear her voice now. “Gotta be done, sis. Gotta be done!” I tried and I couldn’t do it. There’s something so comforting about an actual book. I savor the covers, the ability to relax in a bath with a story that is not your life, the luxury of lying in a bed with a book. I just can’t experience those feelings with a computer, however book-sized. Those of us who are tactile struggle with electronic everything and, though understanding the rationale, I never accepted the Kindle, even when I travel.

“What are you going to do with all those books?” people ask me. I have books and bookshelves all over my house. I do not know the answer to that. I know that if a book has a family member’s handwriting in it, I am unable to part with it. Evelyn Burrows … 1933 (my grandmother’s careful hand, the year my mother was born). Una Baxter … 1960 (my mother before she married). These are all anchors in time and I prize them. I doubt the next generation — the ones who will inherit my books — will feel the same way about them, though perhaps they might keep the books I wrote myself and inscribed. Whatever, it’s a life-long passion I shall take with me to the end.

Read to your children and your grandchildren. Open their eyes to the huge world outside and breed curiosity in their minds. Don’t leave it for the classroom, make it a vital part of your every day — a special time that you will regularly share, knowing what a special time it is that won’t last forever, but will imprint special memories that they can equally pass along.

I cannot wait to start reading the “Junie B. Jones” series to my granddaughter. I know she will howl with laughter, as my daughter and I did years ago. Fortunately, there are a lot of them in the series. My plan is that she will become an excellent reader and writer just like her auntie and that she will love books just like her grandma. She certainly enjoyed my book, “Winston Comes Home,” and was impressed that her old Grandma had actually written it. These are gifts that we pass down that we need to make the time to share with one another. Life should never be too busy to sit down with a good book and take a walk someplace else.

On my nightstand, there are piles of books that I never get to; mostly because I am always adding to the pile. There are forever books that I just must buy. Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” is there, as is “The Little White Horse” (time for a re-read), “The Mayor of Casterbridge” (last read when I was 15) and the list goes on. I’m currently reading the autobiography of Gavanndra Hodges, “The Consequence of Love,” about a girl who loses her younger sister. Now there’s a story and a nod to my baby sister Rosie, now two years gone from our planet, but never forgotten and often just the wing of a dragonfly away.

I can imagine her laughing at my piles of books. “Oh sis. Just no fixing you, is there?” No, likely not. Keep immersed in the world of books, folks. No matter what else is going on, it’s a wonderful place to be.

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