To tell you the truth, I think I’ve lived my whole life with “my nose stuck in a book,” as my grandmother, and my mother, used to say. Not that they weren’t great readers themselves, they were. It was just that whenever I was needed, or wanted, or was supposed to be doing something else, I had my nose in a book.
This affliction started early. And was aided and abetted by my mum. I remember her reading to me from both of these old books. I don’t really remember much about The Castle of Grumpy Grouch, except that it was a great favourite. Mum and I talked about it a few months ago, about where it disappeared to, and how much we loved it. Then when I was writing a blog post about how Hubby had been a teensy bit grumpy in the past few months, the title just came to mind. So I looked the book up. And found that Kessinger Publishing had made available “facsimile reprints” of “this rare antiquarian book” because they considered it “culturally important.” Cool. So I ordered one from Amazon and sent it to my mum. The Hungry Tiger of Oz I remember better. How I loved the concept of the vegetable man who would take root if he stood too long in one spot. I remember puzzling over that as a child. How did he sleep, or eat his dinner? Would slippers help?
I think that my grandmother Burpee bought me, The Shiniest Star. I always loved this tale of the little angel Touselhead who could never make her star as shiny as the other angels. The book had pop-ups, and little pockets with things tucked into them, and I adored it. When my niece Susie had her first child, I thought I would wrap it up and give it to her, from one Susie Burpee to the other. It was a bit beaten up, some of the pop-ups didn’t pop any more. I had written my name in the front, along with my signature drawing of a lady, in high heels, a triangle skirt, holding her purse in one hand and a yo-yo in the other. I have absolutely no idea why I drew this lady in all of my books, and why she always held a purse and a yo-yo. Kids are weird, aren’t they? Anyway, when Susie and her husband came to Ottawa one weekend, I went along with my parcel to meet her for coffee. I feared that Susie would think this was an exceedingly stupid gift. But I needn’t have worried. She loved it. When she opened it, she got all teary and cried…”Oh, look there’s your little name!” And then we both cried.
These are the first books that I remember reading to myself. Maggie Muggins and her creator Mary Grannan were kind of an institution in New Brunswick. And especially at our house. Grannan wasn’t only a writer, and later a radio and television personality; she had also been my mum’s grade one teacher. And like many Canadian kids, I grew up reading her books and watching Maggie Muggins on TV.
After Maggie, I graduated to books like these. Some were cast-offs from my older sisters, some were my own. These are two that I rescued when my mum moved from the old farmhouse into her new little home. We took many of our old books to the Salvation Army Store, but I brought a representative sample home with me. Like these two.
And these ones that had belonged to my father when he was a boy.
I had to be selective. We have a small house and I had a whole lot of books already. Especially old books.. I love old books. These are a few that used to belong to a school teacher who lived near my mum’s parents and taught at the Devon Superior School. When Kelsey Gregory, who had never married, and her bachelor brother died, my grandparents bought her house with all its contents. Kelsey was a great reader, and over the years, I appropriated quite a few of her books. This Gene Stratton-Porter book, The Keeper of the Bees, is one of my favourites.
And this one too. Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch by Alice Caldwell Hegan, published in 1911. Mrs. Wiggs is a “philosopher” whose entire “philosophy lay in keeping the dust off her rose-coloured spectacles.” She is a widow raising her five children alone after “Mr. Wiggs travelled to eternity by the alcohol route.” I love that bit. Kelsey’s taste definitely ran to melodrama, with a bit of tragedy and sacrifice, where everything turns out all right in the end. Can’t argue with that, I guess.
My taste (as many of you know) definitely runs to murder and mayhem, with lots of Canadian lit, and a good dash of literary chick lit. This is the appellation I like to give to those books that are intelligent, and really well written, but are most definitely favoured by women readers. Books by writers like Nancy Mitford, Anita Brookner, and Barbara Pym. Not necessarily written for women, but which are mostly about women, and probably read primarily by women. I’m not a big fan of non-fiction, unless it’s a subject that already interests me… like the Mitford sisters. But I’m trying to cultivate that.
Anyhoo. These are the books I currently have my nose in. Or should I say, in which I currently have my nose? Not wanting to end a sentence with a preposition, you know.
I’m finally getting around to reading the newly published Harper Lee book, Go Set a Watchman. I’m also reading two non-fiction books. Me, Myself and Us, by Canadian professor and writer Brian Little, is about “the science of personality.” It’s really interesting. But I’m not good at reading non-fiction books at one go. I usually dip into them over the course of several months, and eventually finish them, maybe. The other non-fiction book I’m working on is The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills. Ironically I’d just started reading this memoir about Marja Mills’ relationship with the Lee sisters, Alice and Nelle (Harper), when I heard the news that a “new” Harper Lee novel would be published this year. Let’s just say that I have lots to say about that event, but I’m waiting until I finish reading the novel. I’ll get back to you about both books later in November.
This is my “on deck” pile. The new Sharon Bolton mystery Little Black Lies. Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own
by Kate Bollick is a non-fiction book that I’ve been wanting to read since last April. I stumbled upon an article about the book when I was writing this
post about Barbara Pym and Anita Brookner. And the Margaret Atwood book Madd Addam
has sat unread on my shelf for over a year. Shame on me. I know it will be fabulous.
So, this week. When I really should have been cleaning my house, I wasn’t. Because, well, I had to finish the Laura Lippman that was due back at the library, and there was the Harper Lee novel that I needed to read before my book club meeting. And as I sat down with my book and my cup of tea, I chuckled as I thought of my grandmother and my mum. And how I still have my nose in a book when I could be doing something else, and probably should be doing something else.
But, if my penchant for avoiding just about anything in favour of reading is exasperating, they have no one to blame but themselves. If they hadn’t been such avid readers. If there wasn’t always a pile of books somewhere in our house to read, or if Grammy didn’t always have boxes of her books ready to give to us. If my mum hadn’t read to us kids so faithfully when we were young. If we didn’t always get books for Christmas; I mean, it wasn’t Christmas if we didn’t get a book or two. If Mum and Grammy didn’t always have at least one book on the go themselves. Well, maybe I’d have been better at dusting or cleaning my bathroom, less dreamy, or so unable, it seems, to remember what the heck I’m supposed to be doing if I spy my half finished book before the task is completed.
Yep. I have to say, Mum.
If my nose is always stuck in a book. Not my fault.