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Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Life in Books

"Seriously? You're bringing a book?" My brother-in-law/youth pastor's expression drew a laugh from my throat. 
Our youth group was headed to a big baseball game in a neighboring town, and I did not intend for a moment to be bored out of my mind at the stadium. Let's be honest. I only went for the snow cones, anyway. That and to hang out with my sister, brother-in-law, and friends. Piercing the Darkness was included in those "friends."

For books indeed are friends. Precious and wonderful ones. Comforting, familiar, wildly exciting, emotion-stirring, real.

For $4.00 one summer, I soared out the nursery window with Peter Pan and Wendy and experienced Neverland. I met the Lost Boys, engaged in a fight against the dreaded pirate Captain Hook, and faced almost certain death bravely with Peter. Finally, I was returned safely to the little room in England and was never the same again. The trip was well worth every penny, I assure you. But don't dare settle for my opinion. Find out for yourself.

Fifty cents was the fare for my hilarious misadventures with Emily Bartlett in Emily's Runaway Imagination. That was in sixth grade. . . and middle school . . . and high school. I have read it at least three times, once to my mom, who enjoyed it as much as I did.

I filled a dilapidated cardboard box with ten cent paperbacks at a thrift store one rainy afternoon and pulled from it at least twenty separate and thrilling adventures. 

But adventure does not have to cost a cent. I read Agatha Christie's complete collection of Miss Marple short stories this summer for free. I borrowed it from the library and didn't return it until all the renewals were up and I had read it from cover to cover. What harrowing mysteries we encountered together, Miss Marple and I. Who knew that so many murders and crimes could be solved by a rather delicate-looking elderly lady who spends much of her free time knitting?

A Little Princess also was a library treat, and rather than savoring it slowly, I indulged in it wholeheartedly for two days until it was gone, leaving only its flavor to linger in my mouth. Northanger Abbey, A Series of Unfortunate Events (yes, all thirteen of them), Henry Huggins, Socks, and various others of Beverly Cleary's books, the Summerhill Secrets series by Beverly Lewis, and Fireflies in December. . . these are some of my favorites I can remember reading from the library. Since, I have found a way to collect all of these books, from thrift stores, thrift book websites, gifts, and other such means (all legitimate and perfectly legal). ;)
Fireflies in December, by the way, led me to the following two books in the trilogy by Jennifer Erin Valent, all of which I cherish and have read twice through so far.

As a Christmas gift from my parents, I received a very old copy of a thick book I had desired for many months. The Scottish Chiefs. I delved into it the very day I received it and within its pages was plunged into overwhelming conflict amidst Scotland's hills, castles, and battlefields. More than that, I was plunged into the very heart of a brave, honorable man, a warrior who suffered devastation and loss. And who fought for what is true, noble, and just, rather than giving up, as cowards do.

I picked up my first Louis L'Amour novel from a bin labeled "free" outside a thrift bookstore. At the suggestion of a trusted bibliophile, I read L'Amour's autobiography first. Education of a Wandering Man. Read? Perhaps devoured is the more appropriate term. (In the style of much-loved author Lemony Snicket, I will insert a definition here.) Devoured is a word which here means "read with exceeding interest so as not to pass over any word idly, highlighter in hand to catch especially inspiring lines and paragraphs."

The most amazing part of it is--one book, one adventure, one literary experience leads to another, and another . . . and another.

The Anne of Green Gables series led me to Kilmeny of the Orchard, which led me to The Story Girl.
Caddie Woodlawn led me to Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, which led me to Pollyanna.
Ella Enchanted led me to the Inkheart trilogy, which led me to The Hobbit
I Kissed Dating Goodbye led me to Boy Meets Girl, which led me to Do Hard Things, which led me to Start Here.
Authentic Beauty led me to Set-Apart Femininity, which led me to When Dreams Come True.

And unlike the real world, where an adventure, once experienced, can never be replayed again, books can be revisited

When the mood strikes me, which occurs unpredictably but often, I reread the Emily of New Moon series. Since a very stormy and late November night during my growing-up years in middle school, I have been absolutely captured by Emily, the girl who seems so much like me that it is uncanny. Certainly, many writers from the past have identified with Emily Starr, but my own experience with her is special to me. We will always be "kindred spirits," as her author would have termed the bond.

I remember life's various seasons and certain events by which book I was reading at the time of its occurrence. This happens quite by accident.

I just happen to remember that I read Ballet Shoes almost entirely at school one day in my snatches of time (of course, I used to read most books that way). 

Christy accompanied me to Get Acquainted Days at the Bible college I later attended for two years. I sprawled out on my stomach across the top bunk and read by a small book light long after everyone else had gone to sleep. I fell in love with Cutter Gap and its unique residents. (Since, I have revisited them all and found as much pleasure in my second reading as in the first.)

To Kill A Mockingbird held my undivided attention for several days at college, as I hungrily devoured (yes, it is the only appropriate word to use here, too) every word. Well, every word except for the sprinkling of inappropriate ones, which I marked out with a black pen. I don't mess around. ;)

I began One Thousand Gifts while waiting wearily in a busy airport on our French class's return trip from Paris, France. How could I have known that my life would never be the same after reading that amazing book?

In a doctor's office waiting room, I read of the terrifying experiences of Corrie ten Boom in The Hiding Place. Those sitting nearby had no idea I was engulfed in Nazi-occupied territory, far from the little office and the twenty-first century.

Waiting for my parents to pick me up one day after my piano lesson, I sat in my teacher's comfortable parlor chair, one leg tucked underneath me, and settled into Little Women. I had just reached a heartbreaking proposal scene, and I nearly cried. Little Women is an old, dear friend of mine, merely the remembrance of which brings a smile to my face. I remember being engrossed in this same book on a couch packed tightly with people, all gathered around a television to watch a basketball game. It was my classmates, and I contentedly entered the world of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March, without a care for the wild screaming and cheering occurring all around me.
(So as not to seem a complete introvert, I would like to insert a note here: I do socialize and in fact, enjoy doing so quite often. I do not attempt to shut people rudely out. There must be a balance, and often I find I restrain myself from pulling out the inevitable book tucked in my purse and merely talk, listen, and pay attention to the people and surroundings in which I find myself. After all, real life is an adventure in itself.)

I met unfortunate Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester on a van en route to a youth revival. I decided I loved them then. My mind has not yet been changed, nor is it likely ever to do such. Passionate is the word I would choose if asked to describe the novel in one word.

I read The Hoosier Schoolmaster, A Christmas Carol, and approximately twenty million Boxcar Children books (give or take a few) aloud to my mom. We took turns reading the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and various other novels. We laughed and loved every moment of it. 

Through the last few chapters of A Man Called Peter, I distinctly remember sitting in my bedroom floor with the door closed and sobbing. Yes, the true tale touched me that deeply. I have reread it since and fully intend to again.

Sense and Sensibility, Little Men, Freckles, Joni and Ken, Not My Will, and many others I read behind the counter at the little antique store where I worked one summer. I filled the slow hours with wondrous words.

That same summer, I cried in my bed late one night as I read A Severe Mercy, a heart-wrenching true story of a man (a dear friend of C. S. Lewis) who loved and lost and who gained the Lord.

In my college campus library, as I worked at the front counter, I used spare hours to travel with Gladys Aylward to China (The Little Woman), with Amy Carmichael to India (Amy Carmichael: Let the Children Come), and with Joni Eareckson Tada throughout her childhood, youth, teen, and finally adult years (The God I Love)--to name a few.

While experiencing severe stomach pains, I curled up on my sister and brother-in-law's couch (not the previously mentioned ones) and distracted myself with Grace Livingston Hill's exciting The White Flower, which I finished only a couple of hours before my mom drove me to the nearest emergency room (I clearly survived, but please pray for me as I continue to experience a few health problems. God continues to bless, and He has the answers and a reason for it all).

I read from The Last Sin Eater at lunchtime in my Christian school's cafeteria. The story was too intriguing to leave in my locker. I could not concern myself with appearing nerd-like that day; finishing the story simply took precedence.

I could continue, but I believe you grasp the idea. I am involved in a lifelong love affair with books.

It began when my parents read to me What Was That?, Green Eggs and Ham, my favorite glow-in-the-dark Spooky House book, The Puppy Who Wanted a Boy, and other such enthralling tales. It grew when I was given that wondrous golden key into worlds unlimited--that is, when I learned to read for myself. It continued to sprout when my dad read to me Little Pilgrim's Progress and "The Knight of the Silver Shield." It blossomed when my mom and I took turns reading chapters of The Boxcar Children before bed. And it absolutely flourishes now.

The purpose of this post is to share my thoughts and the titles of some of my favorite books, to attempt to explain a glimpse of my passion for words, and to encourage you to use your God-given ability to read--that marvelous gift--to the fullest. 
I understand that not everyone loves books as I do. (Actually, even something as wonderful as books can become a dangerous idol. CHRIST must be sought above all earthly goods.)
But is there a different passion God has given you? Embrace it! Delve into that activity, topic, goal, or experience, and see what God can do with it to mold you and use you in the unique way He has planned for you.

~Miss Emily Elizabeth


Tarissa said...

Books are a special passion of mine too. The Boxcar Children will always hold a special place in my heart, because of their entwinement throughout my childhood.

As many bookworms do, I love collecting books (AKA adventures at the library and thrift stores. It's a lifetime hobby. =)

Emily said...

So true, Tarissa ;)