Tuesday, April 21, 2009


MAGIC. It is a loaded word, with perhaps negative connotations, or mystical ones or maybe considered just plain silly.

For me, opening a book and being transported to another life, another place, even another time, THAT is magic.

According to my mother, I have loved books since I was old enough to chew on them. Which, considering my perpetual battle to lose weight, seems incredibly apropos. Or incredibly sad, depending on your point of view.

The library was my main source for books. (Except for Little Golden Books, my mother refused to buy me books. Because she had received a book once as a gift when she was a child and had been disappointed. Sigh. Never mind that I BEGGED for books.) The library building itself was new when I started going there as a preschooler, in the late 1950's. We lived in the Bronx, on West 179th Street and the library was a few blocks away, on West 181 Street. They were long blocks, because of the way University Avenue curved around what was then the NYU campus (now Bronx Community College). The section where I grew up, University Heights, has suffered social and economic stresses in the past 39 years, but it was a great place to be when I was little.

In the library, all blond wood, fresh paint and hushed, there was a glass walled story room where we sat breathless and cross legged, waiting for our magic carpet ride with the Children's Librarian. No one read to me at home, so I was enthralled with this elegant young woman, her cool voice and warm demeanor. I always remember her in a tweed pencil skirt, her legs folded gracefully to the side as she read us Harry the Dirty Dog, Make Way For Ducklings, Blueberries For Sal and, best of all, Madeline.

Slanted stands held the new books that had arrived each week. The covers would creak as they were opened for the first time. I could smell the newness, feel the crackle of the pages under my fingers, tingle with anticipation at where I would go this time. I learned to read by myself quickly, so I could get there on my own.

Reading was an escape, a pleasure, an indulgence.

I did get a lot of books from my grandparents, books that were hand-me-downs from mostly my aunts. So I was exposed to a peculiar mix of oldish and new, giving me a quaint, skewed and out of time perspective on the world. In retrospect, I am so grateful for that. Along with compulsively devouring old movies, this reading gave me an education that has served me well in terms of having a very eclectic knowledge base. In other words, being a complete wise ass know-it-all.

As I got older, and into school, I would often get up in the middle of the night, turn on the light and read an entire edition of Cherry Ames, Judy Bolton, Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew or the Dana Girls. Written into books for teenage girls of the 1930's and 40's, these were characters my peers had never heard of. I loved them.

I went to the library almost every day. I bolted through the stacks alphabetically, reading whatever appealed to me, alternating between fiction, non-fiction and biography. Then I would start over to get any new books that I had missed.

It is such a joy to me to re-read and talk about books that captivated me when I was young. So that is how I will start this blog, by beginning at the beginning.

I will share the magic.



Marie said...

Oh, my! Cherry Ames. She sure did have some adventures. I am reliving my childhood now through my son - there is nothing that makes me happier than hearing him say "Can we go to the bookstore PLEASE!" I bought him "The Secret Garden" and told him it was about disease and death and a hidden garden and a girl in a big house with mysterious crying...he's hooked. He even wanted the edition with the key on a chain taped to the cover. I love browsing the children's sections and hearing the books call "remember me?" It IS magic!

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