When I was a child, reading was something I could do with my mom. She was an English teacher, so knew the value of reading to and with small children. I don’t remember everything she read to me, I just remember loving books. I loved the feel of them, the smell of them: the crispness of their pages. We had a large collection of Sesame Street books and Richard Scarry books. Nothing thrilled me more than hunting for Goldbug while my mom read the story on the pages.
So, when my aunt visited one evening with a box full of my dad’s old Hardy Boys books for my brother, I was more jealous than there are words. I was the one who loved books. I was the one who wanted to read. So, the next time my aunt visited, there was a box of books for me. Nancy Drew, Vicki Bliss, the Dana Sisters, Cherry Ames, Trixie Belden, Judy Bolton… I was in heaven.
Once I started, I didn’t stop. I fell in love with the characters. I felt like Nancy Drew was my sister – or at least a really close friend. I even saved up enough money to buy the Nancy Drew cookbook with recipes such as “Hollow Oak Nest Eggs”. I dreamed about owning a blue Mustang- how cool was Nancy to drive one of those?? And then there was Ned Nickerson. How dreamy he was. What a lovely way to introduce a girl to what boys could (but rarely turn out to) be.
Nancy, Vicki, Cherry, Trixie, and Judy walked with me through grammar and high school. I would spend every waking moment not owned by academics with a novel in my hand. Even when I did the dishes, I’d read. At Mass, I always had a book to get me through the sermon. Sometimes, I’d try to be good and bring The Lives of the Saints, but if I was at a good part in a Nancy Drew, that would be the one in my hand.
I think one of the events that turned me into a voracious reader was Miss Mangialardi’s reading challenge. Miss Mangialardi was my third grade teacher at St. Francis Xavier elementary school. She was, and remains, my favorite teacher. When not threatening to beat us with a wet noodle, she was showing us how a Venus flytrap worked. Or teaching us “Paul Revere’s Ride” by playing it on a record player (yes a RECORD player in a classroom!) and having us repeat it. But the best was reading. She put a large chart in the front of the room with all of our names on it. Every time we finished a book, we put a check in a box on the row next to our name. But the best part was that for every book finished, a prize was given. Yep, you guessed it. The pride of the 80’s- scratch and sniff stickers. Stickers were HUGE in the 80’s. Forget scrapbooks we had sticker books. They were everywhere. I can’t even tell you how much money I wasted at “gumball” machines getting little packs of stickers. Puffy stickers, googly-eyed stickers, Garbage Pail kid stickers, kitty stickers, smelly stickers… You name it, we had it.
At the end of the challenge, I had three rows of checks. Yes, that was the most in the class. I can’t even tell you what books I read. I know we got this great set of condensed classics from Toys R Us- there were twelve of them in a pack and they were pocket-sized, but substantial. I became addicted to reading. Voracious. I often tell people I don’t just read books, I eat them. If I don’t have a book to read, I start getting a wee bit batty.
Throughout grammar and high school, I got a book for every good report card. Christmas and birthdays: books. Of course I got Jem and the Holograms dolls too… but they always paled in comparison to the pile of books. I was never happier than when I had a pile of books on the table next to my bed. It meant that I’d be going on adventures for a long while. Sometimes I’d even read to my Cabbage Patch Kid. I’d use my books as pretend classroom books when playing school.
Growing up the way I did, surrounded and supported by avid readers, I developed a true love for books. Not just what they contained: ideas, dreams, new worlds, but what they were made of and how they were made. I loved the feel of a hardcover Nancy Drew book (before they became slick they had a bit of a fabric feel to them). I almost keeled over when I saw my first illuminated manuscript. A work of art made out of words and vellum… So, as a faithful worshipper at the altar of books, I NEVER wrote in them. It was sacrilege to deface a book with my scrawl. Later on, I learned that writing in books is a great way to dialogue with an author: express ideas, ask questions, etc. But at that time, books represented accomplishments. They represented money I’d saved. They represented challenges I’d accepted and accomplished. Books represented something that I shared with my mom, my grandma, my aunts. At a time when most girls don’t want to talk to their moms, I could talk about books.
As I made my way through college and graduate school, I continued reading for pleasure to escape from the crap I had to read to pass. There is some true excrement that students must read… Luckily by this time I’d expanded my horizons to science fiction and fantasy novels (also courtesy of my aunt) and mystery novels. I cultivated a love for Egyptology from reading Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series. I chose my major based on my love of the medieval setting in which so many of my favorite books took place.
I read for pleasure, I read to escape. I read to bond with others and I read to educate myself. I’m not ashamed to say: I am a bibliophile. Thank you Nancy Drew.