Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Once Upon a Time...

It always begins like this, doesn't it?  Way back, on someone's lap, pages turning, a voice above your head, but if you're in that lap, you're somewhere else too.  Deep in, lost in the dark forest with Hansel; eating an apple like Jim, while pirates mutter nearby; worried sick about a pig that a spider wants to save from becoming bacon; paddling out of a messy housecleaning job with someone who really knows the River...  Oh, that River!  It's as Bilbo says: you have to be careful going out of your front door, because it leads to the Road, the River, the Sky: it will take you up and move you wherever it will.  That's a book.  That's what I love.

I wasn't a reader, when I was young.  I had encountered a "Reader": not a person but a so-called book.  It was a thing with words in it like "See Dick.  See Jane.  See Spot. See Dick run.  Blah blah blah."  At first meeting, though, it was a lovely red cover bound in black, with a cover picture of a little girl reading a book, and on her book's cover was the very same little girl reading the very same book, and on that cover another little girl reading a book about herself, and on and on, until it was too tiny to see.  My first intimation of infinity.  I took it into the bathroom, where two mirrors opened up toward one another and showed you a different perspective of what you wanted to look at. And there it was.  Infinity TO THE Infinity.  If a light switch could make a lamp turn on in another room was magic, and I still think it is, though I graduated in the sciences, then this book, this cover, this infinite series, was better than stars in the sky at night.

But not on the inside.  When I learned to see Dick and Jane and Spot, it was betrayal.  And so, I would not read for fun.  Books lied.  They were magic on the outside, but nowhere else.

Now there was judging a book by its cover!

I'm so grateful my mother in her wisdom took a very exciting book out of the library, and began to read a little to me every night.  "The Castle of Adventure" took me to a scary place where people carried torches instead of flashlights and where lightning flashed in a courtyard and almost killed Jack except that he was wearing rubber-soled boots... which was when my mother laid the  book down on the bed and said with finality, "I'm sorry, I can't do this any more, I'm much too busy..."  I wailed after her, but to no avail.  And since somehow she had forgotten to turn out the light, I thought I would just pick up the book for a second, to see if the words were really like the ones my mother had said. 

I never looked back.

And now here I am, telling you a story, not much of infinity on its cover, but there is magic in it, you see.  Magic in every tale, if you go deep enough.  Even in an ordinary life.

I'm off to bed now, to my night-time book.  Donna Leon tonight, with "Friends in High Places."  A beautiful pun.  An elegant writer, with authority.  I hope when I return there will be someone to tell me about the magic in his or her life.  Or how it all began for you.  Or whether you got caught by a different book.  Or why you like books at all. 

It's 11:11 (EST).  Make a wish!




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