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My Life with Books

“Nay, it’s not the Devil been leading her astray. It’s books! That girl has been nothing but trouble ever since she learned how to read.”

― Anya Seton, The Winthrop Woman

My life with books began before I ever entered school. And, like Elizabeth Winthrop, but to a lesser degree, they have caused me some trouble.

One of the earliest memories I have is sitting on my mother’s bed while she was reading to me. I remember parroting along with her. She finally turned to me and chided, “Are you going to let me read or do you want to read it yourself?”

I honestly don’t know if I had memorized what she was reading or if I was reading along with her. I do know, by the time I entered first grade, I was reading. In those days, the teacher would sit at her desk. The reading “groups” would sit at a table beside the teacher’s desk, and there was a desk between the teacher and the reading group. One student sat in it every day, and that student was rotated. I remember sitting there one afternoon, and it was my turn to read as the special reader, and Mrs. Hunt, very sweetly, said, “Donna, you are going to have to slow down, the other children can’t keep up with you.”

And so began my illustrious reading career and my annoyance at reading aloud in classrooms. This was not the first time I was told to slow down, or on the flip side, got in trouble for not going slow enough to “keep up” with whoever was reading.

At an early age my mother took me to the local library in town. I remember standing there in amazement at all the books. I had no idea there were so many in the world. She gave me a limit of five to check out.

I promptly read them all in the car before we got home (which was only ten minutes away.) My mother was not happy. When this happened a few more times, she took me to the librarian and said she needed to find me some harder books.

The woman looked at my mother, and then at me, and laughed. I was always tiny for my age, so the librarian was certain my mother was just bragging unnecessarily about her daughter. My mother had me read for her.

The librarian decided I did need something harder. More trouble . . .

Then there was the time I was supposed to be getting ready to go to church. I remember sitting on the bed, one sock on, the other dangling in one hand with a book perched in the other. I couldn’t put the book down long enough to get the other sock on. My mother has always nurtured my love of books and reading, but she was annoyed that morning to say the least.

Finding books, of course, that were difficult enough for me at such a young age, but not above my maturity level, became a challenge. When I got to high school, I started reading Catherine Cookson, Victoria Holt, and Phyllis Whitney. Anyone who hasn’t read these old authors needs to pick up their books. They are rich in historical content, faulty, heroic characters, and mystery. I came to love books that were deep and to this day have an aversion to “fluffy” romance or fiction.

After I had read all the books by these authors, I had to find others. The prospect was daunting, but eventually I found Judith Pella, Kirsten Heitzmann, Catherine Palmer, and a few others. I will readily admit that I don’t like Sci-Fi (unless the characters are extremely compelling), erotica, or crime. That does limit me in my choices, but that’s the beauty of books. There are enough different kinds for all of us to find something that we like.

Fortunately, my reading experiences and the knowledge that has ensued has brought me more joy than pain, which could not be said of Elizabeth Winthrop. If you’ve never read Anya Seton, and you like sweeping historicals about real people, then The Winthrop Woman is a book you should pick up.

What about you? What were your first experiences with books, and who are some of you favorite authors?

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