“Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labeled ‘This could change your life.’ ~Helen Exley

I grew up in a house that had a fireplace in the living room. On either side of the fireplace were built-in bookshelves, full of books to which I had complete access. I can remember roaming through those shelves, looking for something to read. Reading was a compulsion right from the beginning.

I was about eight-years-old when I first found Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell. I was horse-crazy at eight and I’m sure that was my inspiration for picking Black Beauty. Little did I know that Anna Sewell would forever change the way I looked at horses, and in fact, all animals.

Fifth-grade found me bored and turning to the fireplace shelves yet again. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte spoke to me with a cold shock of recognition and delight. Jane was the underdog—someone I could root for, someone who knew how it felt to be lonely, to be put upon. Ms. Bronte was describing my life! With only brothers in my family, and embarrassing parents, I might as well have been an orphan; my life couldn’t possibly be any more grim as far as I was concerned! Not to mention the spooky mystery of Mr. Rochester and his wife. It was a lovely combination of heartache and fear.

Then there was the year I found a copy of The Greek Treasure, by Irving Stone. His account of Heinrich Schliemann discovering the lost city of Troy hummed through my veins, and created a life-long love of ancient Greece, Homer and archaeology. Sometime later, I read Pauline Gedge’s wonderful novel about Hatshepsut, the first female pharaoh in Ancient Egypt. Child of the Morning fascinated me, pulled me back to a time so thoroughly and completely, it felt as though I was remembering another life.

Ray Bradbury’s works of short fiction, such as The Martian Chronicles or The Golden Apples of the Sun, instilled in me a strong love of science fiction. Edgar Allen Poe made me love mysteries.

Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff turned me from being mildly interested in the story of King Arthur to realizing that he could have been real, and Sutcliff showed me quite clearly what his life might have been like by showing me the ‘reality’ of 5th century Britain. Historical fiction became another love of mine.

As I examine my reading life, I can clearly see the threads traveling from the present back to the exact book that started it all; the book that made me care about treating animals with kindness, the books that made me want to travel and discover ancient mysteries, the books that made me long to see castles and pyramids. Books have enriched my life and I’m grateful to my parents for stocking those fireplace bookshelves so well!


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