CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)



Ink and paper have been two of my greatest mentors. In my ongoing love affair with the book, I’ve underlined, dog-eared, ketchup-spotted and water-soaked many a page.

No one said I was particularly careful with books, did they?

Whatever I’m doing, I always seem to have a book in hand. Waking up with a cranky infant a few years ago? I escaped to the world of faerie queens with Marion Zimmer Bradley’s world-walking fantasy, “The House Between the Worlds.” Putting on makeup in the morning while CNN blares Third-World gloom from the TV? It’s no problem with the latest Stephen King novel propped in my lap. The rest of the world seems a gentler place after what the Kingmeister dreams up, and he doesn’t seem to mind all the Ivory Bisque makeup dots splattered in the margins just as long as I buy his stories faithfully. No time to read anymore with the demands of my family? I just take the latest offerings from the Science Fiction Book Club into the bathroom and read while I soak and the water cools. I learned years ago not to startle and drop the book into the water when someone pounds on the door. (At first, a few books were sacrificed to a watery grave.)

Even meals were not enough without a few pages to turn. For years, I couldn’t bear to sit for supper without a book propped under the edge of my plate. (I quit, mostly, when crumbs and tea spills kept creeping onto the pages.)

It’s been an addiction, but it’s been a pleasant one.

When I was in elementary school, I stumbled to my grandmother’s house daily from the bus stop three blocks away. The stumbling came into play because I always had my nose buried in some absorbing book about Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Treasure Island, Peter Pan, “The Telltale Heart,” one of my mom’s nursing manuals and even once the Boy Scout handbook. It didn’t matter what I was reading, as long as I was reading. I only looked up when I came to the curb.

Years later when I was expecting my daughter, fellow exercisers at Tupelo’s Wellness Center were amused at the familiar spectacle I presented: An immensely pregnant woman stomping around the walking track, my nose still buried in a 3-inch-thick novel or my eleventh guidebook on children.

Books have taught me how to operate a computer, judge if my daughter is really sick or if I’m just a paranoid mother, decide which kind of lawn mower to buy, learn how to bake a cheesecake and take action on other grander themes. I signed up for my Tupelo library card before registering to vote here.

Now this devotion is carrying over into a second generation: My daughter received her first book when she was 9 days old. (OK, she just chewed on it a few months later. But Goldilocks and the Three Bears were waiting.) Today, my 5-year-old’s books range from “The Ladybug” to “Aesop’s Fables,” and they take up more space in her room than her extensive Toys R Us loot collection does.

When she’s asleep with her favorite “Little Critter” paperbacks scattered on the bedspread, I think about all the worlds that entranced me as a child. I look at her sleeping face and think about all that lies ahead of her.

I hope books help to ease her into that future. They certainly greased my own childhood.

Carolyn Bahm is a Daily Journal staff writer.

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