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Books Are Still My Weakness

I don't remember learning to read. I enjoy fancying that I was born with this innate knowledge, that I tumbled out of the womb with the talent. It's my own personal fairy tale. Completely bypassing sticking individual letters together, lumping like dumplings, forming words. The words just seemed to come together, like fully formed characters. I'd imagine that the words had their own little homes, that CAT and DOG lived next door to each other, with easy access to TREE. As an only child for nearly five years, I was read to every night. Most of my memories regarding reading center around my father, the more active reader of the family. Dad would sit in his favorite yellow chair, engrossed in a heavy book, while Mom buzzed around, busy accomplishing some minute household task. I remember my mother holding me close at night, reading Little Cloud with all the right voices, never trying to skip pages as I hear other parents do. I'm sure that I did what most children do, memorize those favorite books. I'd chant along with Dr. Seuss's Hop on Pop, giggling at the line "Dad is bad, bad dad!"

I am quite sure that I had plenty of books, but I was on a never-ending quest to add to my collection. I'd save my allowance, a dollar a week, and every two weeks, go to my favorite book shop. Oddly, it wasn't your normal bookstore, but something like a Hallmark store. There I could find the Berenstain Bears and Dr. Seuss, paying a grand sum of a dollar fifty for a new book. Perhaps my parents were wise in not showering me with books -- they were always special treats, a reward pulled from a closet shelf. I'd watch Dad absorbing his hardcover Tom Clancy books, then stick them on a bookshelf, where they languished, lonely in their consumption. One night I said in frustration, "Daddy, you just waste your books!"

"Waste my books? What are you talking about, child?"

"Daddy. You only read a book one time. I read my books a million times over." I can't say I didn't hold it against him.

Observing my father retreating to the bathroom with his current volume, staying for long stretches of time, I would do the same. I'd take a stack of well-worn books, plowing right through them, happily swinging my scabbed legs. My mother worried that I was having digestive problems and took me to the family doctor, asking if she should start me on prune juice. Mortified, I explained to her that I just thought it was what you were supposed to do, read books and stay awhile.

I recall being bored, like a socialite at a barn raising, over phonics. Since I was an advanced reader, I was allowed to skip phonics, the whole color-coded folders with their P's and Ph's. I took pride in being in the best reading groups, and felt sorry for the kids who moved slower. I didn't understand that reading just didn't fall from the heavens, a gift upon birth. Of course, I'm the kid who got royally flummoxed over simple addition. I'm certain the child who whiled away hours with his primary-colored abacus was confounded by my trouble with the foundations of math.

In the first grade, I was one of the chosen few to bypass picture books. Given access to the chapter books, I didn't know where to start. A special blessing rests upon the librarian who handed me the classic Ramona the Pest. I couldn't stop reading about Ramona, her family, friends, then moving on to Ralph the Mouse and Dear Mr. Henshaw and Emily and Her Runaway Imagination. My family certainly had no choice but to listen to me read all the funny passages out loud, snorting obnoxiously over the best parts.

As an adult, books are still my weakness. I affectionately refer to my bedroom as "the library" since all four walls are lined with overflowing bookcases. Most built by my father, who now spends his time reading for his long-delayed college degree. I dream of the day where I can buy all the books I desire, but I know, secretly, that good books come on their own accord, and you can't be too greedy. Sometimes you have a lucky streak, where every book is gold. Each night I fall asleep with a book by my side, several more scattered at my feet. Soon I'll add a husband to that mix. I hope he doesn't mind sharing his bed.

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