I could hear Mum’s footsteps coming down the hall, and the door creaked open. I was ready, hidden under the blankets with my purloined torch and a huge book; I waited for the footsteps to recede before I flicked on the torch once again to devour the pages within.
I was about seven and could read from an early age. However, it would not be one of the children’s books that I had chosen earlier, but would be one of Dad’s novels with a hard cover and a title I could not even comprehend. I would read them from cover to cover, not understanding all of the content, but enjoying the essence of them all the same. I devoured Lolita and learned of the Kontiki expedition to Easter Island. I would read until midnight or when the torch batteries ran out. Mum could never understand why the batteries in her junk drawer were always flat. It was because I took the good ones and left the flat ones.
My dad was a book lover and a reader and he would take me to the Woolston library on the crossbar of his bike to choose books. He would leave me in the children’s section which I enjoyed choosing from, but it was his section that held the fascination for me. There was a long room dimly lit filled with shelves to the ceiling. A huge table down the centre of the displayed piles of books. Reference books, novels, magazines and periodicals. And the smell of that room has stayed with me forever. And so my love of books was born.
As a little girl in growing up in New Zealand, I had brief encounters with Rupert the bear, Noddy and Big Ears. Enid Blyton’s Famous Five annoyed me because they were able to get away and have these adventures with no parents in sight. How come when mine were always around getting in the way of my plans?
Anne of Green Gables, Little Women and more of that genre filled my days, but I found them unsatisfying after reading the secret pleasures of grown up books.
I love books. I love their smell, their texture, their weight and their promise to take you somewhere other than your present ‘now’. My tiny granny flat is full of books. They teeter in piles on my coffee table, fill the shelves of my bookcases, sit in read and unread piles on my bedside tables and in baskets and spaces where they snuggle in like quiet and unobtrusive friends who have come to stay but are no bother.
I’m happy to lend favourite books but can panic when they aren’t returned. Like an anxious parent, I’m nervous till they are back nestled home on their shelf again. Yet I give many away, but then twice that number come back to me. An unread book is a delight waiting to be feasted on. A new book has the most intoxicating smell. The pages are pristine and inviting. They beckon me to come aside, put away busyness and partake of their promise of a new reader/writer relationship.
Continue reading Karen’s story in Part Two here.
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