Thanks, Mom, for the love of reading

This was a response on Quora to the question, “How were you introduced to Tolkien?

Fortunately I was lucky enough to have a mother who read to me and my siblings in the evening when her health permitted.

It all began with the Brothers Grimm fairy tales and an assortment of old English fairy tales. But my fantasy genre awakening really began with The Hobbit, and I was hooked for life. Then came The Lord of the Rings, Isaac Asimov’s superb Foundation trilogy and some Robert Heinlein books. By then I was off and running on my own, and eventually got my hands on a copy of The Silmarillion.

Parents, please read to your children in the evenings. It can be the start of a beautiful friendship.

I honestly do not remember my mother reading to me as a kid. I pretty sure that she must have done so, because I know that she did read to my little brother, who is seven years younger than me, but sadly I have no actual memories of her reading to me.

But I do remember Mom encouraging (and feeding) my love of reading, and I have been hooked for my whole life. My mother always had a book she was reading (when we boys gave her enough peace to actually get in some reading, that is.) One of my earliest clear memories, from when I was 5 or 6, is being with my mother in the library in the Cos Cob Grammar School*, checking out my very first book on my brand new library card. It was Harold and the Purple Crayon.

By Source, Fair use,

My addiction to reading really took off when I was in the third grade. I was an accident prone kid, often tripping over door sills and what-have-you (that was also the year they discovered I am rather nearsighted), and one of the things I had a propensity for was climbing this big pine tree that grew next to the house where we were living – and then falling out of it when climbing back down. Twice I fell out of that stupid tree, catching myself between the legs on a lower branch and giving myself a hernia in the process. I still have matching scars on the left (age 6) and right (age 8) sides of my groin. (Needless to say, I stopped climbing trees after that.)

Anyway, it took me several weeks to recover from that second hernia operation. Mom let me lay on the sofa in the living room during the day, so I wouldn’t have to be isolated in my room (and so it would be easier to keep an eye on me, no doubt.) Mom had a rule against any daytime TV, not that there was all that much of it back then (there were only the three networks and one or two independent channels from NYC,) so all I could do was lay there and read. I quickly finished my school books (something that would develop into a bad(?) habit later on), so my mother would get me piles of books from the school library. One of the books I read during that period was a collection of short stories that included Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” which began my lifelong infatuation with Sherlock Holmes.

We were relatively poor in those days; we had everything we needed, but there wasn’t a lot of money for luxuries – like buying books. The very first book I actually owned was a biography of Knute Rockne, which I had to buy from the school library when our labrador puppy chewed up the corner of the cover. (Yes, I had to pay for it out of my allowance and birthday money, since I had foolishly left it where the puppy could get it after I was warned not to.)

I became so hooked on books that I was willing to risk my life for them. We lived in an old farm house that had been converted into apartments, and we rented the second floor. I was in my bedroom reading my school books one day when a fire broke out in the basement (I have no idea how it got started) and my father came running through yelling at us to get out of the house. When the family assembled outside my mother realized that I had disappeared; I was right behind my father the last time she saw me. My father started to run back up the stairs when he found me struggling with an armload of school and library books. When I had realized we were exiting due to a fire, I had run back to my room to save the precious books! My father was fit to be tied, but my mother thought it was funny, once she saw that I was safe.

I have owned literally thousands of books over the years, and thanks to my nomadic lifestyle as a young man, a number of local libraries benefited from my addiction. Since my usual mode of travel in those days was to throw a backpack over my shoulders and stick out my thumb, I would donate all my books to the local library before I moved on – always taking at least one or two with me as “seeds” for my next collection, of course. I haven’t done a count lately, but my current collection is roughly 1,000 books, although a couple hundred of those are on my Kindle. 😉

By the way, in answer to the question from Quora, I discovered Tolkien in 1968, when some of my friends were reading the Lord of the Rings books in school. I started with those, and then read The Hobbit afterwords. Naturally, I have a copy of all of Tolkien’s works in my current library. lol


* One of the coolest things about that school library, for me, was that it was open all summer, too. If I remember correctly, there was a door right off the main entrance of the school, so they could leave the inside doors into the school itself locked.