"You know, I didn't grow up with books."
My mom mumbled this to me from her hospital bed one quiet afternoon while spending a grueling 16 days in the hospital last spring.
I paused before responding to her because my brain was trying to compute what she said with the bibliophile that I knew her to be. Ever since I was a little kid and can remember, she was always reading a book. For the 20+ years of her retirement, she worked the crossword puzzle in the newspaper every single day.
She loved words. I can remember several summers in my childhood where she and I played a game of Scrabble every single day. I remember winning the “Most Books Read Over the Summer Award” in 4th grade. I think I still have the plaque somewhere to prove it! She inspired me to love words, too.
I said, "What do you mean Mom?"
She replied "At the orphanage. There were no books. No one ever read to me."
I'm not sure where this random thought came from as we were sitting watching HGTV together, but I know that she spent a lot of time in the final months of her life reliving aspects of her childhood. This must have been a memory that popped up for her.
I felt tears well up in my eyes and my throat constrict as the tragedy of this reality settled into my brain. My mother had a very difficult childhood and overcame all kinds of abuse to become the strong, independent woman that she was. This revelation about not growing up with books and how she didn't let that hold her back from developing a love of reading gave me an even deeper insight into her personality and to her determination to make a better life for herself despite the challenging start she was given in life.
It also helped me to understand her fierce commitment to my education. She tells me that I was reading at age 3 and she got really frustrated when my daughter, Riley, didn't start reading until age 5. She thought that she was responsible for teaching me to read at an early age and didn't understand that even though I was doing the same things with Riley that she did with me, all kids develop at different rates. (Riley is now an avid reader at least a grade level ahead of her peers! I know that Mom is smiling down on her from heaven and also breathing a sigh of relief! Ha ha!)
I think my mom loved to read because it transported her to places she never had a chance to visit and she learned about ideas, experiences, and people that she might never encounter. Neither of my parents went to college and while they did some traveling in the U.S., they tended to stay close to home. She loved the detailed British settings of Maeve Binchy books, the controversial ethical issues that Jodi Picoult tackles and the spiritual elements in Sue Monk Kidd’s writing.
Mom and I talked about books a lot before she got sick and even more so during the 3 ½ years of her valiant battle with cancer. Although I tend to read a lot of self-help type books, we found common ground in recent best sellers like Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See and Ronald Balson’s Once We Were Brothers.
While I miss having my Mom here to talk about books, I’ll forever be grateful to her for instilling the love of reading in me. I buy books like most women buy shoes. And I’m perfectly OK with that!
I'm reading several books right now – some fiction, some memoir, some spiritual - and wanted to share them with you in case any of them piques your interest. I tend to be a personal development junkie but I haven’t read any Brene Brown in over a year! (She’d better write a new one soon!)
- When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – Even though I had heard of the book and knew that the author dies at the end, I wasn’t prepared for the depth of emotion I experienced as the book came to a close. Obviously, reading about someone dying from cancer when my own mom just died from cancer made me a little rawer than your average reader, but the passion with which the author writes about both living and dying is truly a gorgeous piece of art.
- Childhood Disrupted by Donna Jackson Nakazawa – A new friend told me about this book based on an article that she had read about a correlation between childhood trauma and lifelong chronic illness. Having lived with and managed chronic illness for a few decades now, I knew immediately that I had to read about this cutting edge research based on the Adverse Childhood Experiences Survey. I find myself nodding my head and underlining a lot as I not only see myself reflected in the author’s research but also see the stories of dozens of my clients and friends.
- The Book of Joy by The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu – This book just makes me HAPPY! Of course, it should, it’s a book about Joy! But what I love about it is being privy to the intimate friendship that two of our world’s greatest spiritual leaders, a Christian and a Buddhist monk, as they tackle the immense subject of how to find joy in a world fraught with sorrow. This is a lovely read and I have given it as a gift to several friends and clients.
- The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – Oooof. This was a tough read. My book club read it together and it was deep, intense and hard to digest at moments. While it is a work of fiction (The author’s reimagining of the underground railroad is really creative.), it’s obviously based in fact and on the atrocious history that the U.S. has with slavery. I’m glad I read it, although some of the images will haunt me for years to come. An important read at this time in our country.
- The Magic of Memoir Edited by Myers and Warner – I’m taking this book with me on vacation soon. As I write sporadically on my own book, I wonder how much of it is going to be memoir so I figure that I had better learn about the art and see if it’s a good fit for my writing style.
What do you like to read? What are you reading now? Have you read any of these? Please hit “reply” and share with me. I love talking about books!