Much of my childhood and teenage years were spent deep in the world of books. I started reading at a very young age and never looked back. My family was quite dysfunctional, so books and music provided the escape I needed so desperately. It seems a long time ago, but, in reality, it hasn't been that long. And yet, the world has changed drastically. Stimulation overload is the norm and only promises to get worse. The simple act of wonder is quickly disappearing.
I was a precocious reader, taking on adult books as a pre-teen and teenager. They exposed me to a world I had little concept of. Children's books kept me going for a while, but I quickly moved on, for better or worse. Our home was a literate and musical one, with little television or radio. This was the key to my motivation to explore the world through books.
I read stories about the frog and the toad, and I didn't like them. Even as a child I realized they were classic tales, but they left me cold. I wondered why I was unable to hook into them.
I read about a magnificent dog named Lad. I wished, so much, I could meet Lad, own him, and learn more about him. A section of the book described the mistress of the family suffering a serious illness - Lad was told to remain quiet so she could rest, so he did, staying at her doorway for a long period of time, obedient and concerned, until, one day, he could take it no longer. When let outside he put a great distance between himself and the family home, and then he barked - barked long and loud, releasing pent up energy and worry. And I wondered...did dogs actually do that? Were they capable of such thought processes? Why did we always have dingdong dogs instead of an intelligent one like that?
I devoured every Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books I could find, often carrying armfuls of treasures home from the bookmobile that stopped near our home. I wasn't very good at figuring out the mysteries, but I wondered about the friendships among the various characters, the teamwork they used to solve crimes, and how a girl could deal with being named George. I mulled that one over a lot. I read Black Beauty several times - how could a girl not read that book? And I wondered.
Our home was stocked with many books, but most were for adults, so, barring other options, I simply started plowing into those. I found James Michener and my life has never been the same. I dove into The Source, still one of my all-time favorite books, and was overtaken by the sweeping saga about a subject I knew little of. I was fascinated by the lifestyles I read about and wondered what it would be like to live during those times. That book provided many hours of private consideration and thought. I read most of the rest of his books soon after, and I loved them all, but none reached out and grabbed me like that first one. I knew very few Jewish people - the exposure to their history was eye-opening in many ways.
It might have been when I read War and Peace or War and Remembrance when I was exposed to raw human sexuality. "Come on, lover...Mama wants." This was odd. There was an earthy, unapologetic element to that relationship that piqued my interest, and the connection was initiated by the woman. My parents lived a passionless life, deeply disliking each other and long since abandoning any interest in physicality in their marriage. I wondered what went on in other homes, in businesses, in friendships. It was a world I was totally unaccustomed to and had had no real exposure to at all. I pondered that for a long time.
I read biographies and autobiographies, for the most part, and attempted to place myself in the lives of those I learned about. I wondered how they handled their fame, difficulties, and challenges. I read about Pierre Curie (interesting in his own right), cheese makers, nurses, war heroes, and a boy who lived by himself on a mountain. I imagined what it would be like to be totally blind, to be a composer, and to explore dangerous territory. Did I have what it took to do those things too? What was I made of?
I veered into unfamiliar territory for quite a while and developed an addiction to books by Alfred Hitchcock, along with magazines and books with similar types of stories. I found it perversely fascinating to read how people died - so many ways, so much horrible creativity. I wondered what it would be like to suffer a death such as a character in one story who was tied to a chair, then dropped out a high window. He landed upright, but, of course, it was a violent and frightening end. The oddity of it was jarring, and it kept me awake at night, but I sought out more and more books and stories of that nature for more years than I care to admit. I didn't understand my fascination with it - I was appalled at the level of human depravity, fictional though it was. Those types of things really did happen, I reasoned, and I wondered...why? Why were humans so terrible to each other? Was there a way to stop it? What motivated these horrible individuals?
I am grateful for the reading material I was exposed to and the opportunities I had to read, almost endlessly, and think about what I was taking in. It was so much easier then than it is now. Children and adults both are bombarded with information almost non-stop these days, and little to nothing is left to the imagination. There are many talented authors, for kids and adults alike, but I wonder how often their books are read in quiet environments conducive to wandering minds. If everything is always laid out for us we cannot create worlds of our own and imagine what other lives and events must have been like. Stimulus overloads destroy the ability and motivation to simply...wonder - wonder what might have been, what could be, what ought to be, and how things work. he world is a noisy, chaotic, overwhelming place - we need to consciously create environments in which we can cultivate thoughtful, questioning, wondering minds.