For an English “master” I hardly ever write about literature on this blog. I’m not sure why that is really, but today will be different. Today Beatrix Potter was born in 1866 and I’m not sure what child in their adulthood right now did not read Peter Rabbit stories when they were growing up. I loved the illustrations with little rabbits wearing coats and no pants. The sneaky fox had pants but Peter rabbit didn’t and even then got his coat stuck under a wire fence trying to escape from Mr. McGregor’s garden. Her art was whimsical watercolor and Victorian cosy. It made me want to jump into the picture and talk to these creatures. The perfect adventure on a rainy afternoon. That’s what books were to me.
My childhood may have been rough but I will always remember that I got my love of reading from my mother. Our house was full of books in various types of bookcases. My favorite bookcase was one my step-father had. They were a set of what some call lawyer’s shelves, which have glass fronted doors so that you can see your books and protect them from dust. These bookcases consisted of long rows, stacked on top of each other and were wider than the usual book case today. The doors lifted upwards via a knob and slid back into the case itself so that they stayed open while you perused the titles. My mother’s tastes (as are mine today) were eclectic. Next to a series of volumes about ancient Egyptian mummification procedures and funeral practices, was a copy of James Michener’s The Bridge at Andau, an historical account of a crucial point in the ’56 uprising in Budapest, Hunagary. My father was a Hungarian refugee in 1957. Next to that was Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, a book I secretly read in Jr. High (mostly for the juicy bits at Sonny’s sister’s wedding). Next to that was an old copy of the bible; you know the kind you get for Sunday school promotion, with the red and blue toned saturated pictures of scenes from the life of Christ. Next to those were National Geographic magazines and a large book about Wildlife and Fish that my sister and I thumbed through endlessly.
When I started school, I was allowed to buy as many books as I wanted from the Weekly Reader program. This program for grade school and Jr. High children offered books at cheaper than retail prices. Back when I was in grade school, you could buy a paperback book for 50 or 75 cents. So I would buy 10 or so. When the order arrived I was thrilled to take my stack home and begin reading. I remember reading my first novel, Jenny, from one of these stacks. I do not remember the author, but it was about a girl who retreats to a natural enclave in her backyard to read, write, and daydream. I loved that book. And I’ve loved all sorts of books ever since. Maybe I should write more about them.