The fantasy was inspired not only by my love of reading, but also by the fact that we had very few books in our house when I was growing up. (One of the few I can recall was a light blue softcover my father studied to prepare for his "citizenship" test.) For my working-class Italian-immigrant parents, books were a luxury we couldn't afford.
Then one day when I was around ten years old, a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman rang our front bell. You can imagine my amazement when the salesman managed to convince my father to buy a brand-new 20-volume set of the World Book Encyclopedia. I don't know how the salesman did it, but he was my new hero! And since my younger sister and brother were too young to read at the time, I considered the set mine.
As nerdy as it may sound, I loved reading those books. We didn't have the Internet back then, and a trip to the public library meant taking two buses each way. So having my own encyclopedia was indeed a luxury. I used it not only to research class assignments, but for recreational reading, too. I never read a volume from front to back as you would a novel. Instead, I flipped the pages until something struck me as interesting.
I tell students at school visits that my favorite volume was the letter "B," and it's true. As a girl, I pored over the color photographs of Birds and Butterflies from around the world. I studied the rules of Baseball and memorized the stats of many of the record-holders. (I believe Joe DiMaggio still holds the record for the longest consecutive hitting streak at 56 games.) I learned the hand signals for right and left turns on a Bicycle.
Those books held more than information for me. They took me places I could only dream of visiting. They introduced me to presidents, poets, and painters. They sparked my curiosity in mathematics and music.
As I grew older, I became more interested in reading fiction and drifted away from the encyclopedia. But every so often, I still went back to my old World Books. And every time, I inevitably learned something new and interesting from their pages.
I'm happy to say I still own that set of encyclopedia--you can see it pictured here:
Now, whenever I pull out the "B" volume, I'm reminded of how it felt to be ten years old and own not only one book, but a whole set of 20. I was the richest girl in the world!
* * * * *This is the last in our series of posts for the National Day on Writing, sponsored by NCTE. I will be submitting this entry to the "A Lifetime of Reading" Gallery of the National Gallery of Writing. I hope you'll use the following Writing Workout to inspire your own contribution to the gallery.
The first book I ever owned . . .What's the first book you recall as your very own? Was it a picture book, a reader, a novel? Was it brand new, or a hand-me-down? Who gave it to you? What memories are evoked when you think about that book?
Post the title of the book as a comment here on our TeachingAuthors blog, then write a 250-500 word description, essay, or anecdote about the book. When you're done, I encourage you to submit your piece to the gallery called "A Lifetime of Reading," curated by Franki Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn, who blog at A Year of Reading. You can read more about the gallery at their blog.