A Personal Note

When the writer Gertrude Stein was a girl, she wondered what she would do to occupy herself when she had finished reading all the books in the world. When I was a kid I couldn’t imagine even getting through the G’s on the alphabetically arranged shelves in the library. Maybe you find yourself in between those extremes.

I was the last child in my rural first grade class to learn to read. And I lived in a house filled with books, paintings, lots of light and shadow (we had no electricity), dictionaries, a set of Encyclopedia Brittanica, colorful calendars, newspapers, magazines, and cereal boxes that would tell me everything I needed to know about the breakfast of champions. We had a grand piano and a flat porch roof you could stand on and see over the tops of the orchard trees to forested hills and snow-topped mountains. We had a stone fireplace you could actually walk into if you were very, very short. Our father, a lapsed lawyer turned orchardist, had built our house of logs, and it was a grand home indeed. Not a log cabin; more like a smallish log lodge. We were privileged children because we had the most interesting stuff in our house to ask questions about.

And yet. My classmates who had no socks and no dentist were reading about the well-behaved Dick and Jane before I had understood flash cards with “cat” and “dog” and “the” on them. I’m a reader now, of course. But still, that scared little kid with bruises on her knees and uncombed hair lives inside me, ready to come out and fail when I begin reading a thick book with hundreds of pages covered in small, gray print. You probably don’t want to know how many years I took to gather the courage to read Moby-Dick and War and Peace. (And I found they were both absolutely worth the wait; I couldn’t have come close to living fully in those stories when I was young.)

Dick and Jane and Sally
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