My Life in Books

Hello, my name is Cynthia, and I am a bookaholic.

It all started with Jungle Animals, a children’s book that my father bought me in Oregon, on one of his wheat-disease research trips. I was probably about six. The book’s cover, if I recall correctly, boasted an artist’s rendition of a a tiger. Or maybe it was a lion. I’ll probably never know, since what remains of the books lingers in a trunk in my attic, without that cover.

That did it. There’s something about holding books, turning their pages, smelling the perfume of paper, or if it’s a used book, the hopefully attractive odor of the previous owner’s Chanel No. 5. Barring that, it could be mildew and mold that I smell. Or, worst of all, cigarettes.

Jungle Animals, I now know, represented the increasing fascination of the West with the exotic lands south of the Equator, mostly Africa and the man-eating islands of the far East, where people ran around in loin cloths and bared bosoms. An example of creating the Other if I ever saw one! But for me, that book meant more than an introduction to a world I desperately wanted to see. It meant that I could travel to all those places with no more effort than crooking my finger and turning some pages, running my eyes over a bunch of small black specks freckling the pristine white paper.

I remember running up to my father when I finished leafing through the book, begging him to get me another book. He knew I had not read it all the way through, and he told me, “You need to read that one first.”

So I did.

But I don’t remember the second book. Or the third.

As with so many things in life, it’s always the first time that sticks in memory, that oh so fleeting thing.


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