I can still hear the jingle from one of our local bookstores. It’s cheesy, but it stuck in my head, and I remember it because it’s so true.
♫ When you open a book from Deseret Book,
You open a wonderful door!
It leads beyond the things you see
On a journey of discovery… ♫
Books were my best friends growing up. I was small and introverted as a child, and books were wonderful, thrilling… and safe.
I cut my reading teeth on “Peanuts” at age 5, devoured books by Richard Scarry and Virginia Lee Burton, Gelett Burgess, Munro Leaf and many others; graduated to things by A.A. Milne and E.B. White and Robert Louis Stevenson; read The Hobbit in grade school (actually it was read to us), and stayed up all night for several nights running reading The Lord of the Rings in 1965 when it came out, the first time in my life I was unable to put a book down.
I wept through Saroyan’s The Human Comedy and Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, and devoured my father’s collection of science fiction anthologies, which I later inherited, and still treasure. In college I became enamored of the realists – Twain, James, and Howells, among others, and although I choked on Thomas Hardy in high school, I shouted with glee on almost every page of The Mayor of Casterbridge when I re-read it (for pleasure!) four years later. Orwell, Huxley, Asimov, Salinger, Clarke, Camus, Sartre, St. Exupéry, Victor Hugo, Proust – oh, those long sentences! – and so many, many others… the list goes on forever.
Reading gave me a love of language, both my own and that of others. Some of my favorite examples of beautiful writing I have shared before. And the journeys I took in my imagination long before I ever set foot outside of my own country took me to the edges of the universe and back. To quote O. Henry again, from the aforementioned “A Municipal Report:”
“On the surface,” said Azalea Adair. “I have traveled many times around the world in a golden airship wafted on two wings – print and dreams. I have seen (on one of my imaginary tours) the Sultan of Turkey bowstring with his own hands one of his wives who had uncovered her face in public. I have seen a man in Nashville tear up his theatre tickets because his wife was going out with her face covered – with rice powder. In San Francisco’s Chinatown I saw the slave girl Sing Yee dipped slowly, inch by inch, in boiling almond oil to make her swear she would never see her American lover again. She gave in when the boiling oil had reached three inches above her knee. At a euchre party in East Nashville the other night I saw Kitty Morgan cut dead by seven of her schoolmates and lifelong friends because she had married a house painter. The boiling oil was sizzling as high as her heart; but I wish you could have seen the fine little smile that she carried from table to table. Oh, yes, it is a humdrum town. Just a few miles of red brick houses and mud and lumber yards.”
Azalea Adair knew: books are the ultimate portals.
And there’s so much more than cake to be had.
The Old Wolf has spoken.