I started school at four. Reading upside down was easier than right side up. Placed in the slow group, the Bluebirds, I didn’t know I was dyslexic until a wonderful teacher recognized my predicament and demonstrated a few techniques that allowed the light to go on and my love of reading emerged.
With this new—found interest, books began populating my life in strange ways. First was the famous sleuth, Nancy Drew. She appeared as a gift from my mother. Nancy and I were the same age. She was just as curious as me, but braver and willing to take more risks. I loved accompanying her and helping her figure out the mysteries that arose in her books. Later, Little Women appeared, and I met Meg and her sisters and loved their relationship. They gave me a glimpse of life in an earlier century. It made me appreciate the freedoms I didn’t realize I had. However, more than Meg and her sisters, Nat in Little Men touched my heart. Reading late one night, long after I was to be asleep a sudden realization struck. I was close to the end of the book, just a few chapters remaining. I caught my breath, returned to the page and read one word at a time, savoring every minute detail. I didn’t want it to end, and when it did, I cried.
Piers Anthony introduced me to Fantasy. I loved the titles of his books: Juxtaposition, Centaur Aisle, Night Mare and the journeys he led into my imagination. It was the first time I’d read anything about a veil between worlds. Then there was Ray Bradbury, and Conan Doyle, Madeleine L’Engle and so many others that allowed me to expand my imagination and my view of the world.
It wasn’t until I was in college that books began directing my life. A gift of Siddhartha sat for a while wedged in my bookcase until it fell out and landed on the floor. That’s when I read it; it asked for my attention. Later, the Hobbit and the entire Tolkien series consumed me, waiting patiently as a gift from a friend and then demanding my attention. After the Hobbit, I knew something more than coincidence was at play. As books arrived, I thank them and waited for their queue that it was time to begin our relationship.
Over the years, books have become more aggressive. The weekend of our wedding, Elliot and I were browsing in a small bookshop in Cambria. I do love bookshops of any kind and can lose all track of time wandering and waiting for a book to call to me. This day as we walked along the aisles, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho fell off a top shelf and hit me in the head. I bought it and read it immediately. A knock on the noggin is a message to, “Read me now!” Funny thing, about a year later, in another bookshop, I met Paulo Coelho, no one waiting for his autograph, just me and Paulo. Star struck, I asked questions, ran home brought back my book for him to sign, told him the story and bought his new book, Pilgrimage, and had him sign it too. That was before phones with cameras. The picture, however, is still vivid in my mind.
This week, I’m reading a book, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. A gift from last Christmas, it’s spent the last eleven months wedged between The World Café and Dreams of Joy. Why did it call to me this week? Books remain some of my oldest and best friends and their arrival always seems to be perfect.
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, is my strangest tale of book demanding to be read. A few years ago, I lead a writer’s group in a bookstore owned by Mitchell, retired attorney, avid reader and sage. He’d often sit at his desk and listen to our conversations regarding writing, books or whatever the theme was for the evening. Several months into our gatherings Mitchell died. I still came to the shop and conducted my groups, and his presence remained palpable. One afternoon, arriving at the shop key in hand, the book, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, was laying on the inside of the glass door, facing outward and opened so that both the front and back cover faced me as I stood outside looking in. I called his wife, Barbara. She had not been to the shop. I called my friend Chris. She hadn’t been there. Given my relationship with Piers Anthony, I was sure that the book was miraculously left by Mitchell. I delivered the book to Barbara and let the strange occurrence of a book at the door go.
Since Mitchell’s passing, Elliot and I moved from Southern California to Northern California. In my explorations, I’ve found a fascinating used bookshop in Grass Valley. Each cubicle of books is owned by a different person. So, when friends visited from Canada a few months back, entertainment included a visit to that bookstore. It’s easy to get lost and spend…well you already know. We entered, and everyone scattered. Deeply engrossed in a mythology section and flipping through a book on moon rituals, my friend, Aviva calls to me. She’s found a book she wants to show me. I move into the aisle, so she can find me, and I recognize the book she’s holding. It is, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. I begin to cry. “Why this book?” She says she doesn’t know, it just called to her and she felt she needed to show me. I don’t need to be hit over the head again; I bought the book.
Books hold energy and they know who should be reading them. I’ve learned to pay attention and appreciate their magic. Books tell stories, and sometimes those stories are just for us. What book has called to you?