Books. They define the paths and by-ways and pit-stops of my life’s journey, in much the same way they line the walls of every room and hallway in my home, and overflow into cupboards and boxes and into the nooks and crannies of every spare space, spilling out even into the crawl space and shed!
I suppose books are in my blood, in a sense. They fill my earliest memories. Yes, books filled my own home as a child, but they also filled the homes of my grandparents, on both sides. I loved to visit my dad’s parents’ house, just for the chance to tiptoe into the dimly lit guest room over the garage, that housed not only a great, high, old-fashioned bed and ancient chests of drawers filled with hand-embroidered linens heavily scented with moth-balls, but also built-in mahogany cupboards filled with knick-knacks of by-gone days, but especially with books dating back a century and more. The musty smell of old paper and leather binding, and the sight of dust motes, fragile and transparent, drifting in the hazy slivers of sunlight that managed to slip through the heavy burgundy velvet curtains shrouding the small square window, drew me inexorably into a world of mystery and adventure and imagination and once-upon-a-time, opening up to my wide-eyed wonder, as I opened those old books. And if I should ever tire of the supply in the guest-room cupboards, a short set of steep narrow steps was always there in the corner, leading me up to a tiny door and into the dark attic where dim shadows revealed crazily-heaped-up old furniture, and steamer trunks, and yes, most important of all, more stacks of books. It was a world of marvel perfectly designed for a child whose imagination longed for the adventure of long-ago-and-far-away!
Books also filled the home of my mom’s parents. They lived in a great old Victorian home, built long ago by the first doctor in their community. It contained a large walk-in dressing-room filled with dark mahogany cupboards, which were miraculously filled with clothes that must have belonged to the original owners – long, ivory-coloured silk dressing gowns, and dark floor-length dresses with lace trim, and black, old-fashioned wool suits. More fodder for my vivid childhood imagination, truly! And yet, once again it was the books which drew me most. Just as in my home today, they were found everywhere. My grandfather, one of the greatest men of God I have ever known, had very eclectic interests, and gathered books on every imaginable topic. He soon noticed me following in his footsteps, and undertook to introduce me to books which my very proper grandmother decidedly opined were definitely not suited for a young girl such as I! She was especially determined I should not yet be reading Stephen Leacock, and some of Mark Twain’s racier works, and wild titles like “The Chariots of the Gods” when at such a tender age. Grandpa’s eyes twinkled as Grandma expressed her dismay, and of course I could not wait to dig in! Yet, as I read those books with a slightly guilty but delightful sense of rebellion, I was also drawn into the other books that lined their bookshelves, books by men with names like John Wesley, and Charles Spurgeon, and Brother Lawrence, and Augustine. The writing was old-fashioned, the concepts often far, far beyond my understanding, and rarely did I read them through, then, but nonetheless I was hooked, hungering for more of the deep thoughts that I met in those pages.
At home, too, books were everywhere. Of course they were around me all the time, and so in some ways they didn’t hold the exotic appeal of the ones I encountered on visits to my grandparents. I suppose my parents read to us all the time when we were small. I don’t remember, perhaps because it was such an ordinary, daily part of our lives. I do have early memories of sitting around the table after supper, as scripture was read. And I remember sitting together in the living room every morning before the day’s activities began, listening to stories being read from Maxwell’s 10 volume series, The Bible Story. We must have read through the entire series several times over during our growing up years, interspersed with readings and re-readings of The Little Pilgrim’s Progress. Over the years, my parents regularly purchased series of books: classics of children’s fiction, encyclopedias, handbooks, atlases, and always there were Christian books and magazines.
But it was when I learned to read, myself, that books became such a central, defining focus in my life. The beginning of grade 1 (we had no kindergarten in those days) I apparently got off to a slow start, or so my teacher thought. I spend several months in the Turtles (or Beaver, or some other such slow but persevering creature) reading group, seemingly unable to pick up the fine art of reading. Finally, Mrs. Reid, my teacher, called my mom in for a conference, and when explaining my problem, was amazed to hear that at home I was reading everything in sight. Suddenly I found myself elevated right past the middle reading group into the giddy heights of the Eagles group – and there I soared, out of Dick and Jane and into real books!
Grade 3 brought introduction to the school library. Somehow, I had managed, up to that point, to be blissfully unaware that libraries existed! What a discovery! Each week our class would trek to the library where the librarian (another new discovery) would read us another chapter from The Secret Garden and we would be allowed to choose a book. We were also told about the “library club” and solemnly promised that if we worked very hard in class we might be allowed to join this lofty organization in grade 4. I worked! And sure enough, I joined. I loved being in the library, loved the smell of the heavy old-fashioned linoleum floors, the scent of the rubber cement and the feel of it rolling around on my fingers as we glued cards into books, the crinkly sound of the clear plastic sheets we wrapped around the paper covers of the new hardcover books, and the chance to peruse all the books in the library.
Time flew by. 1967 brought Canada’s centennial year. We were all encouraged to choose a “centennial project” and I decided to read 100 books. I reached that point within 3 or 4 months, and went on to 200 and then past, finally giving up keeping count. That was the year I discovered Enid Blyton, and read every copy in the library’s extensive collection! So developed my love affair with books. I discovered science fiction and fantasy and began thinking about far-in-the-future-across-the-universe. I developed passions for gardening and learning and music and cooking and more – every one of them rising out of books I had read. I would go on to complete an Education Degree, majoring in History and Geography, and, of course, in Library Science! I would go on to be a teacher-librarian, and teach courses laden with books, like Social Studies and English. My home would soon overflow with books. It’s a good thing I’ve moved so often and been forced to part with many volumes along the way, especially since my 5 children have inherited my love of books. Otherwise, I’m sure I’d be forced to live in a tent, my house packed to the rafters with books!
Over the years, there has been one Book that has had a greater influence on me than any other book. Christians are known as “people of The Book” and I believe that is true – and basic. I cannot understand how a person who claims to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, cannot long to delve deep, over and over, continuously, into The Bible – The Book! For that is what the word “Bible” means – “the book,” the very Word of God, the revelation of Jesus Christ, Himself God. “To know Him, to know Him, is the cry of my heart; Spirit reveal Him to me,” we sing – and it is in reading His revealed Word, through the guidance and teaching of His own Spirit, that we truly come to know Him who Himself is the Logos, the Word of God incarnate. I must have been about 10 years old the first time I read through the Bible, one of the requirements of the “Pioneer Girls” club I attended, in order to earn the highest “rank.” And over the years of my childhood I memorized many, many verses and passages, to earn Sunday School prizes and such. But somehow it all just stayed in my brain. Not until I became an adult and finally gave me life to the Saviour who had been calling me all those years, did the words of The Book take on real life, moving into my heart, into my spirit. I had always enjoyed the stories, my vivid imagination taking me into the wonders of that long-ago-and-far-away time. But now the story became my story, my life, here and now – and forever! In the past few years, I have read this book, The Bible, over and over again. I have read it in different translations and languages. And it just keeps getting greater and deeper and more awe-inspiring and wonderful. It draws me deeper into the mystery and adventure I longed for as a child, and searched out in those books in the attic. It takes me far beyond human imagination alone could ever take me, into the presence of the One who created all that exists, in Whom everything has its being. It takes me from long-ago-and-far-away, from before the beginning of time, into the realities of my life every day here-and-now, and then far on into the future, beyond the end of time, and into the mysterious glory of eternity. I urge you, gentle reader, if you have not encountered The Word, that you open The Book today, now, and ask God – even if you doubt His existence – to make Himself real to you, to introduce you, through the pages of His Word, to real, everlasting, meaningful life!
Date: August 7 2006
Here are just a few of my all-time favourite books
– The Narnia series by CS Lewis (especially The Last Battle), and also his space trilogy (especially Perelandra), and his non-fiction works (especially Surprised by Joy, The Screwtape Letters, and The Problem of Pain.)
– The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lewis
– Jane of Lantern Hill by L M Montgomery
– Foxes Book of Martyrs
– Songs of Old Time Faith (1953, John T. Benson Pub.)
– Springs in the Desert by Mrs. Cowman