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Thursday, August 23, 2012

There is No Friend as Loyal as a Book

The title is a quote by Ernest Hemingway, and it's perfectly true.

I know it will not be a shock to my friends to hear that I love books. And, since most of them are bibliophiles as well, I am in good company. But I suspect that books mean more to me than most.

I know, I know - them's fightin' words - so allow me to explain.

From the age of about 9 to 18, I lived in Luxembourg City. It was a beautiful place, but filled with people who - for the most part - did not speak English. The TV was in French, German or the local patois, and for the first few years I spoke none of those Occasionally, there would be a non-R-rated movie in it's original English-language, and those I would go to see over and over (which explains my somewhat skewed taste in movies, but that's for another blog post). My school was tiny, and I therefore had few friends my own age. I was resentful of being moved from my beloved England, and pretty much hated everyone and everything in Luxembourg.

I walked around a lot, bored. I played wargames that my brother brought home from the U.S. when he would visit - usually playing against myself, since there were very few people interested in playing Panzerblitz with a kid. And I read.

I read A LOT. Pretty much anything I was given.

The person doing most of the giving was my Dad. He worked on the nearby US Air Force bases in Germany, and had access to the bookstores and PX's that provided an endless source of reading material. He would buy 4 or 5 books in my favorite series at a time, and would dole them out to me at bedtime, along with a stick of gum. I still associate a paperback novel and Juicy Fruit gum with the feeling of being loved and cherished.

Since I typically burned through my homework quickly, and had little other entertainment or chores to do, I would consume these books at a truly ridiculous rate. Tarzan, John Carter, Pellucidar (yeah, I was a big ERB fan), Hardy Boys, Tom Swift...all were scarfed down in a day or 2 each. When those series were finished, I re-read them (two or 3 times each) and then graduated to other authors: Heinlein (my dad would buy his kid-friendly stuff, I would steal the more adult books from my brother's left-behind bookshelves), Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke...all of these wonderful books took me far away from an unfriendly land to strange and cool places with daring heroes, beautiful damsels in need of rescue, and lives far more interesting than mine.

In addition to providing much-needed entertainment, books also became useful educational tools. For example, I learned to speak French by watching Star Trek on TV avec Capitain Kirk et Monsieur Spock and following along with the book containing the current episode. In this way, I knew what McCoy was saying when he uttered the immortal line: "Merde, Jim, je suis m├ędecin, pas un faiseur de miracles!"

In short, books kept me sane through my turbulent teenage years, comforted me, and kept me close to my parents during a time when most kids reject them. They provided me my moral compass, and role models to guide my behavior. Although I was alone, with books to read I was never lonely. They were my best friends, and they have always remained loyal. I love it when they come to pay a visit, and we talk about old times as if the intervening decades had never happened.

So, if you have a spare moment, I encourage you to read a book. Make a friend. It will be time well spent.

Happy reading!

2 comments:

  1. I grew up out in the country. The nearest children were over a mile away. I was the Fat Chick, and developed a very cutting sarcastic outward personality to protect myself.

    The happiest days when I was growing up were Saturdays. We would have bowling league first thing in the morning, and when Mom picked us up from that, we would go to the Village Library. The librarians there knew us well, and let me borrow as many books as I could carry from whatever section I wanted to explore. Other children were restricted to the kids' section, but I was reading Dumas, McCaffrey, Shakespeare, Mitchell, Zimmer Bradley, Asimov and whomever else my fancy fell upon by the time I was 8 years old.

    For me it isn't Juicy Fruit...for me it is the sound of water running along the creekbed as my favorite reading spot was in the orchard, under a tree, right next to the creek.

    I guess this is the long way of saying, "I get it".

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    1. Yup, sounds very familiar, Lys! Very cool insight into your formative years - thanks :)

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