Friday, September 28, 2012


I woke up groggy-eyed this morning. There is a subversive activity going on that I think the public needs to be warned about. Maybe I should contact Homeland Security for this action is a true saboteur. I should be taking long walks, getting eight hours of sleep each night, doing FaceBook, answering emails, doing my exercises. Instead, what am I doing ? Reading.

The books are seductive. I think I’ll just peek into one, an innocent thing to do. And there they are neatly lined up. “Come in,” the words seem to say. “I’ve only a few minutes,” I reply. “Not a problem. You can stop at any time,” they coo. But I can’t stop. Just one more page, one more chapter, just these few last pages, and hours—days slip away.

I’ve tried to make hard, fast rules: No reading before 1:00 in the afternoon. (My mornings are set aside for writing.) No starting a new book after 10:00p.m. If there are more than 10 pages, and it’s after 11:00pm, I must close the book and turn off the light. But I’m a weak taskmaster. If I can’t get to sleep within 5 minutes, I’m allowed to turn on the light and finish the book. I can always find an excuse to read.

My LIST OF BOOKS TO READ is a mess. Can’t really call it a list for it’s a collection of Post-it notes and scraps of paper all stuck into a plastic file. Periodically I go through, putting titles on my “hold” list at the Public Library, but it never diminishes the mess. The “list” has a life of its own. I’ve kept track of books read that goes back to the 1960s. Don’t know why I have it, but it gives me comfort to write the title and author down. Then at the end of the year, I have a total of books read. Useless information, but I continue with the list.

I have vivid memories of reading certain books. I can see in my mind’s eye the illustrations for Mary Poppins. I loved that book. When I finished it, I couldn’t part with it, and carried it around for days. My mother sometimes worried that I always had my nose in a book. “You’ll ruin your eyes,” she said. But she never stopped me. (When I was pregnant with my second child, Mother came to visit me. I had a stack of books to return to the library: Headhunters in the Solomon Islands among them. Mother was horrified. “You shouldn’t read these books,” she said. “You’ll mark the baby!) My father was delighted by my reading for he had always been a reader. He was working his way through The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire when he toddled off to his first day of school.

At twelve, my grandmother sent me her copy of Tale of Two Cities. She seemed to know I was a reader and often sent me books from their library. They were always cheap editions, well worn, and I treasured them. Oliver Twist opened the world of Dickens for me. I often had the feeling, as I read, that something profound was happening. I couldn’t explain it, didn’t even try to fully understand it, I merely reveled in the experience.

I lived in the country, at a lake when I was in high school, which meant I was driven to school each day. The driver, Sonny, was a young man my parents hired to drive my sister and me to and from school, along with Bruce who lived at Painter’s Creek. Sonny always picked Mary and Bruce up right after school, but I always had after school activities: debate, speech, a play, friends, and so had to find other ways to get home. My neighbors, Mr. R who owned an automotive shop and Dr. B a dentist, were more than willing to give me a ride, but I had to find some place to wait until they were ready to make the trip home. The library. It was a Carnegie Free Library, built in the traditional style, with pillars and steps leading to the large double door. Two librarians, Minnie and Mattie, ran the library. I will never forget them. Two grey haired spinster ladies who loved books and delighted in helping people find good books. Often, Mattie would call out a “Psst,” then wiggle her finger, enticing me to follow her into the stacks. She’d pull out a book and hand it to me. “I think you’ll like this one,” she’d say. She was never wrong.

I love it when someone makes a good recommendation. Daughter Mary sent me The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society book. I never would have found it on my own. One of the student acupuncturists at Bastyr University recommended Scandinavian mystery writers. I felt like I’d found the mother lode.

I’m always sad when I finish an author’s most recent book. I then start waiting for the next book. It felt like centuries passed while waiting for another Tony Hillerman, and when I read of his death my heart broke. No more Sgt. Jim Chee. Oh no!

Recently, I saw the book Far From the Madding Crowd on my bookshelf. I had loved it as a girl, but couldn’t remember why. I reread it and in the last chapter had that thrill go through me again, the one that feels profound and mysterious.

Up until a few years ago, I read every Robert B. Parker book. (I’ve done that with a lot of old mystery writers—read each book from the earliest right up to the last.) Learned how to write dialogue reading those books. Cormac McCarthy taught me about “voice” in his All the Pretty Horses. I not only read it twice, but also listened to the audiotapes. And I’ll read it again. I so loved Alison McGhee’s first novel “Shadow Baby” that I had to own it. Thank heavens for Pegasus—my used bookstore. 

I’ve got mixed feelings about reviews and always check to see if the writer is male or female. We are so acculturated that we are never truly objective, and yet I’m curious about what they (who are professional readers) have to say. And then I remember one Sunday morning. My husband and I were reading the Sunday New York Times when Dick put down his paper and said wearily, “Too much is written about what is written.”

Nancy Pearl, Seattle’s former Librarian, has written a wonderful book titled Book Lust I know just how she feels.


  1. Wonderful post Ruth! I'm totally with you on this, as I write this in a roomful of books, amidst stacks of books on my desk. Even though I do a lot of reading on my computer and iPad (Kindle) I'll always take the physical book any time! Now to catch up on your back posts! I hope you're planning on continuing your blog!

  2. Thank you Ruth - again and again - for your stories.

    My favorite literary scene comes from Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger- ZOOEY in the tub, reading a treasured letter from his brother, MOTHER enters the bathroom (despite his protests) plants herself on the other side of the curtain, full of worry and agenda about his sister FRANNY. Something about this family moment grabbed my high school self and has never let go.

    "A great story lives forever." John Truby

  3. I also have a deep love for books, Ruth. The weight of them, the smell, the texture of the paper, the sound of the pages turning, and of course all the great words and stories printed on the pages! I have stacks of books everywhere, and go through different periods of writing down all of the books I read. One year I read almost 300 books! What a great year that was...