How Books Saved Me

Today I am guest posting at Literacy Musing Mondays Linkup with Mary Hill and Ashley Hales.  Literacy Musing Mondays  is for all bloggers who love to write anything literacy related such as essays about the love of reading and/or writing, book reviews, or posts about fun literacy activities. All family-friendly posts are welcome.

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         Some of the most delicious morsels we consume are not  the meals we partake of, but rather the nourishment of words which speak to our souls. When you are the oldest of five children with alcoholic parents, life is tenuous and uncertain, rocky around the edges and loosely glued together by basic threads of food, shelter and clothing. I could always count on those basics while growing up.  Although my father was often either unemployed (“I’m just in between jobs”) or underemployed, we did not go hungry.  God, via neighbors and friends throughout my young life, saw to it that we had enough to eat.

      But the meals that really saved me, body and soul, were the feasts I found in glorious stories, words that took me away from a chaotic and crowded household to a world of people and places that shone with beauty, peace and plenty.

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I am lending a hand to my son as he and his family move house (for the 3rd time.) My grandson Hanan, the oldest of 5, is hiding in his room reading “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”  As a teacher and a grown up I am loathe to call the Wimpy Kid books ‘literature’ but I will say this—those books have got my grandson reading.

Books were my solace when I was growing up, too. I remember hiding away in my room, shutting out the noise and the too-muchness of my four siblings. As early as the age of 12 or 13, whether I wanted to or not, I was often left to babysit my brothers and sisters while my parents stepped out for the evening.

When I was in charge I just let my brothers and sister play on their own (those were simpler times) while I escaped into the pages of a good book.  I found beauty and gentleness, people who were just like me, getting by on little, yet living with happy hearts. A big family was a plus in hard times; I could definitely relate.

One of those books I carry in my heart is Louisa May Alcott’s “Rose in Bloom” (c. 1876), a sequel to Alcott’s ‘Eight Cousins.’  It was a very old-fashioned coming of age story “with absolutely no moral” as the author stated in the preface.  The lines read like a fairy tale; splendor and parties, fancy dresses, adoring young men—all a young pre-teen girl could want.  I got lost for hours. 

I also fell in love with Alcott’s “Little Women” and gravitated to the lead character of Jo (my mother’s nickname for me).  The heroine and I had much in common: both of us the oldest, bossy to a fault, and enamored of our absent fathers—Jo’s was off fighting the war, mine – a stepfather-was away somewhere drinking or gambling. 

Jo often dreamed at her mother’s feet of her father’s homecoming; perhaps the story resonated so with my young girls’ heart because I longed for that to be true as well—that my father would be present in my life.

Gene Stratton Porter’s classic “Freckles” also became a sacred text to me; I have the volume I read as a 12 year old on my bookshelf today. Dreaming as I read, I envisioned Freckles’ cathedral in the swamp forest as a place of solace.  Freckles created  a place of beauty from the forest at his feet, designed by God, where he was heard and understood.  Between those pages I found an escape to quiet like I’d never known, a place where silence spoke volumes. 

I also found a kindred spirit with Freckles— a father who’d abandoned him, no one but he and God and the stunning beauty of the Limberlost. Although Porter’s story never directly mentioned the Divine, His existence palpated between the lines.  I could sense a Presence in her words, the light glimpsing its way into the Cathedral in the woods, the chapters like a song calling me to a Somewhere Else far away.

There are many other volumes that struck a chord as well—stories like “The Five Little Peppers and How they Grew”, Margaret Sidney, 1881. (from the book jacket),

“Ben, Polly, Joel, Davie, and Phronsie, and their widowed mother are a loving family, full of spirit and adventure. Ben and Polly do what they can to support the family, but a bout with measles threatens the well being of the entire Pepper clan, especially Joel and Polly.”

Five children, an absent father and the measles, a threat to our family I remember very well.  The book had been written for me, I was sure.

Another classic was “The Boxcar Children”, Gertrude Chandler Warner, 1942, first book. A tale of four orphaned children living in—imagine!—an abandoned boxcar, making do with little or nothing.  The common thread of happy children scraping by with little, making the best of what they had; the parallels rang true as a bell.

Through all those ringing bells, the resonating tune was God’s song calling me through the pages of these books. I was being drawn  to beauty, peace and provision, while He prepared my heart and soul to hear His voice.

I didn’t listen until many years later, heeding God’s call to come, a lost and lonely little big girl with an empty heart. 

I am still drawn to the classics, the song and rhythm, the beauty of the language a magnifier of the beauty in that other world where I will live some day, with my God who will never leave, who is the resource of all I will ever need.

Books brought me a sort of salvation, carrying me to my Savior; 

they carry me still to this day.

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Now back to the LMM linkup.What have you read this week?
What literacy activities have you participated in with your family and loved ones?
All family-friendly posts are welcome. 😉
You will have until Saturdays at 12 p.m. now to link up!  
Literacy Musing Mondays
Ashley from www.circlingthestory.com
Ashley @Circling the Story: Blog/Twitter/Pinterest/Instagram
Mary @Maryandering Creatively: Blog/Facebook/Twitter/PinterestInstagram

Last Week’s Top Clicked Post!

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8 thoughts on “How Books Saved Me

  1. You might enjoy an oldie I've been listening to on Audible: “Wives and Daughters” by Elizabeth Gaskell. She was friends with Charlotte Bronte (“Jane Eyre”) but this is more Jane Austen-ish (i.e. funny). Almost done, so I can't unqualified-ly recommend it, but it's been absolutely lovely.

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  2. I am SUCH a book person! I love my books. It's difficult for me to clean off my shelves, but I do try to do it periodically. And I try to keep fewer books from the get-go these days so I'll have fewer to clean off later. Hope the move is going well for your son and family!

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  3. You have raised your children well. (and a propos of nothing, I love that you have children named 'Solomon' and 'Sophia.')
    Kelly, when you have time……..I think you'd love Freckles. Start there.
    And thanks for reading, friend.

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  4. Some of these I haven't read! But I just told a new friend today that, as a child, I “read to survive.” I still do, as an introvert. I also can now see that I read to connect more deeply with myself and others and, when the book is really moving, with God. I just took my kids to the library today, the older ones were waiting for books they'd requested. Solomon told Sophia he'd pay her a dollar if she would wait a week to read her book. She promptly replied, “Not worth it.” 🙂

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  5. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story. I also love to read and Little Women was one of my favorites growing up. I also would sneak into my brothers' room to get the Hardy Boys just because I was thirsty to read as much as I could. As a teacher myself, I would not consider Diary of a Wimpy Kid good literature but for some of my 3rd graders that is all they would read at first. Grateful to be visiting you from #TellHisStory

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  6. The Boxcar Children was one of my favorite books from childhood, too. Also enjoyed the “Betsy” books by Carolyn Haywood, and “The Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Oh, and two more classics: Understood Betsy and Elsie Dinsmore. Did you happen to read those, Jody? To this day I remember fondly being allowed to walk to the library, a couple of blocks away, and book-shopping to my heart's content. I made lots of trips because children could only check out four books at a time!

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