A little girl reads . . . and becomes a child of the world


No, I won’t talk about endless snow and below zero night and day and earth so that frozen pipes burst and birds waiting for a sign of spring.

I’d rather talk about the moment I stepped outside the other day and the sun was high and warm, and I imagined the slightest stirring of spring.  I could taste and smell it.  My poor mind and body are so ready to move and wiggle around like a creature that has been stuck beneath the mounds of earth and snow for months.  I need to move.

For the first time in a long time I snuggled in with a good novel this past weekend.  It was The Harbormaster’s Daughter by Heidi Jon Schmidt.  The writing was so beautiful that I read it slowly and relished the way this writer put words on paper.  The setting was a fishing village in Cape Cod at the time the fish were disappearing and the lands were being slowly swallowed up by summer homes.  The plot was woven from human need and desire and fear.   I wandered the beaches and walked up and down the streets of this little town with its many secrets and its long relationship with the sea.  I felt the mist, bathed in the moonlight, heard the wind coming in from the east.

Reading has been such a friend of mine.  I got hooked on books early in my life.  When we lived up in Babbitt my mother used to walk with us to the town library once a week to check out books.  I was probably in third grade when I got pulled into the mysteries of many worlds and many lives that were not mine.  I used to check out five books a week and read them all before the next walk downtown.  I read over morning cereal, under the blankets at night, walking to school . . . one time I remember being so engrossed in a story that I didn’t see a pothole filled with icy slush.  I was shocked out of my imaginary world when my foot went knee deep into that hole.  Through elementary school I liked all of the series books—Nancy Drew, Trixy Beldon, The Hardy Boys, and then I read my way through a shelf of nurse and doctor romance stories and moved on from there.

One summer our neighbor who was a janitor at the school brought home three boxes of books that he had rescued from being incinerated.  He gave them to me, and I widened my reading list that summer and read all three boxes.

When we moved to Cass Lake when I was in junior high, I remember an assignment our English teacher gave us.  We were supposed to make a list of all the books we had read.  I was in 9th grade and didn’t realize that other people didn’t share my love for reading.  The assignment was literally impossible for me to even comprehend let alone do.

Some books have been more memorable than others.  I remember reading Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Patton.  It touched me so deeply that I cried for an hour alone in my room.  Or a book called Eva whose author I don’t remember—but the story took me deep into the Third Reich.  And then there was Emile Zola’s Dead Souls, Voltaire’s Candide, all of the books of Herman Hesse except The Glass Bead Game which I read three times and couldn’t grasp.  And Tolkien.  And Thomas Hardy.  And Ray Bradbury.

A person builds a relationship with the world when they read.  There are no boundaries or dividing lines—it is a global village.  And a person builds a relationship with earth’s beautiful places—an ocean village, an African jungle, a city in Europe, the deep woods of Northern Minnesota.  And a person builds a relationship with the world of ideas, philosophy, and spirit.

Is it any wonder that I would be so committed to wanting people to reach beyond what they know and into understanding all that they don’t know?  Is it any wonder that I would now be spending so much time trying to crack the code on “student success” at my college?  I don’t really care about student success—I just want them to see a world beyond them, take a few steps in a different direction, ask important questions, experience something beyond the constraints and limitations imposed on us by a few square miles.

It would be so sad if people stopped reading the great works (and even the not so great works) of literature, philosophy, science, history . . .  It would be so sad.  It would be sad if I thought I was too busy to take a moment to step onto a beach on Cape Cod and see what a dying fishing village looks like, what its inhabitants care about, what mysteries are hidden in the hearts of those characters . . . and what they have to show me about my own life.

What books have moved you off your ordinary course and into a new world?  What has been your history with books?  Are you reading as much as you would like to be?  What are you reading?


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A little girl reads . . . and becomes a child of the world — 3 Comments

  1. You know that you kind of have to put books into different categories. I remember the first book that really really moved me – and set me in a direction that I followed for many years – it was Martin Eden by Jack London. I was reading all of London’s stuff but this one jumped out to me. All about art and work and the intersection of the two.


  2. Thanks for asking about my experience with books! I, too, read like crazy since I learned to read in first grade. I was excruciatingly shy, and reading was, in part, a vicarious way to experience social interaction which I would never be brave enough to engage in at the time. It was like an alien world that I didn’t know how to navigate myself, but loved to read about with envy and fascination.

    In 4th grade the school librarian was so impressed that I was reading “Born Free” and the rest of that series, which was supposedly at the 8th grade reading level. The relationship that the woman in the book had with the lions in Africa was magical to me and I couldn’t get enough. I loved C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, and I think those books made me feel an inkling of the love of a greater force in the universe, in the character of Aslan (another lion, I just realized!)

    At this point, with 4 1/2 decades of reading under my belt, I have to say I also put books in categories. The main two categories are books by Martin Prechtel, and books by everyone else.

    After searching for satisfying answers my whole life to questions like “why do I feel like an alien in my culture?” and “why does the human culture I’m part of act like a cancer on the earth?” and “why am I ashamed of myself” (and countless others) Martin’s stories about his life and experiences in a traditional Mayan village in Guatemala, and his explanations of history, civilization, the villager’s relationships with the plants, animals, clouds, lake, and mountains and everything else around them, in his extravagantly poetic and delightfully long-winded style, have given me some answers that make sense to me, and that show a way of being human that is so much grander and “something worth descending from.”

    Reading his books is like finally seeing what Home looks like, in myself and in the world, and the possibility of following my nose to find it.

    All other books that I like are leading in some way to that same place, but none describe what the whole thing looks like and why, the way Martin’s do.

  3. My Kindle ap has opened up a world of possibilities, and I am reading “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” It is one of those must-read books that I had never read as a young person. Alas, so little time– so much to read.

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