I know this is literally the last minute and I meant to do it earlier, and it’s technically no longer the 7th for me, but there are still a few minutes before midnight on the West Coast, so let’s hope this counts.
Like others who have done this challenge, I didn’t think I would be able to participate because I could not even begin to choose one book from among the dizzying quantity I read and loved as a child. I was (am) a reader. I was the kid whose poor mother was popping in at three in the morning to find her child with the light still on, reading instead of sleeping on a school night. Pick just one book? How?
There’s the first book I can remember having read to me, The Hobbit. I’ve already talked at length about the way this experience is what kindled the love of story in me and made me want to become a writer. It was the world-building; the way the characters leapt off the page; the knowing that I was experiencing, in a very real and solid way, something that had come out of someone else’s mind and that I could create that experience for someone else. The power of words to build bridges across the gulfs between people that are almost more real than people themselves.
There’s the first book I ever read all by myself, Green Eggs and Ham. I distinctly remember the experience: I was at my grandparents’ house, where I spent every weekend, in the rocking chair with my grandma. She had been sitting with me all afternoon, helping me struggle my way through the book, which I was determined to conquer before my mom came to pick me up. Ironically, I didn’t want to read the book in the first place because I was convinced it would be stupid and little-kiddish and that I wouldn’t like it. (Talk about instantly-applicable lesson learned.) But I did it, I finally did it, and in my moment of triumph I followed up by immediately also reading The Berenstain Bears: The Bears’ Picnic. I was so proud I read them both over and over again, savoring this new skill (which I had been driving myself hard to acquire for the express purpose of being able to read The Hobbit on my own.)
There’s the first “real” book I tackled, after I had a solid handle on the little kid stuff: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I first read it, but I know it was at least before (or by the time) I was in first grade. (My brother taught me to read at the same time that he was learning, which would have been when he was four/five and in pre-school, making me two-and-a-half or three-ish. By the time I was six, I was such a fluent reader that my teacher would occasionally have me do the after-recess reading to the class if she had grading she needed to catch up on.)
There’s the first book that became my Favorite and stayed that way for years and years, which was The Silmarillion in fifth grade.
There’s the first book I remember really seeing myself in, really identifying with the protagonist in a way that made me feel I myself could be a character in the proceedings: The Dark is Rising. Or the first book that made me cry: Ender’s Game. The first book that made me love a character I hated at first, and accordingly made me begin to understand character arc: Taran Wanderer. The first book that stripped bare my understanding of storytelling technique and made me think of writing in an entirely new way: Tigana. The first book I finished reading even though I hated the beginning: Taliesin. The first book I loved passionately despite hating its predecessor and might not ever have discovered if I hadn’t had the tenacity to stick with it: Merlin. The first book that showed me how words could reveal the beauty in darkness: The Stone of Farewell.
Or, in a different vein, there’s the first book the spawn fell in love with having read to him, Oh My Oh My Oh DINOSAURS! Over and over again. Because dinosaurs.
I still remember when I finally felt he was old enough to have the patience and long-term recall for me to read him a chapter book over several nights, and I shared The Hobbit as it had been shared with me. I remember having to keep my excitement and anticipation under control as I got to my favorite parts and hopehopehoped that he would love them as much as I had. I remember developing a newfound appreciation for my mother – the dedication and skill she must have put into all of the very dramatic and engaging readings she did for us over the years, the love of books and reading and story she must harbor herself, the desperate need to inspire that love in her children, that she must have been playing down with the same kind of struggle I was experiencing. I remember feeling closer to her, and to my son when I saw the joy of story kindling in his young face.
Basically, I just love books. I love reading them, I love writing them, I love sharing them, I love talking about them, I love looking at them to see what makes them tick. I love it when other people read them. I love seeing other people discover their love of story for the first time.
Books, man. Books.
So, even though I struggle with activities like this that require me to feel like I’m part of a community, I knew this would be the one I’d have to participate in if I ever participated in anything.
It’s a kind of agony to have to choose just one to donate, but it’s going to have to be The Hobbit. Because when all is said and done, that’s the one that made the deepest mark. I am the adult I am basically because of that book. My local library will be receiving a copy tomorrow.