Averyell A. Kessler
Reading is an intimate experience, intensely physical as well as mental. Nothing equals settling into a comfortable chair or a pile of pillows and opening a just-bought book. It’s the soft scratch of turning pages; the slight aroma of paper and ink. As I remove the jacket and finger the binding, I hold the writer’s soul in my hands If he/she is good, really good, I slide into his/her mind like a welcome guest. If not, there’s always tomorrow. (Sorry, Scarlet, couldn’t help that).
I am not an e-book devotee. I have a Kindle, but rarely use it. Reading electronically is like watching an X-rated film or peeking at internet porn; entrancing for a moment, but miles away from the real thing. My home is papered with books, floor to ceiling. I am not a hoarder, just a woman in love with words. My books are invited companions, my carefully chosen kin. We share life together. I’ve only abandoned one book in my reading life. No need to mention it . I’ll read it one day before my eyesight dims. If not, I’ll use it as fireplace kindling. Nothing fuels a fire like 400 pages of bore.
I am grateful for the wonderful people who taught me read. It’s the foundation of all learning, and mine was laid with care. First, my mother, who shared breakfast with me as well as The Three Little Pigs, Dr. Seuss, and just about every Golden Book she could get her hands on. We were regulars at Jackson’s long ago Carnegie library, then at the new one on North State that was intended to be permanent.
Next the Power School Champs, Mrs. Mills, Miss Montgomery, Mrs. Fulmer, and Miss Williams who started me off with Dick and Jane ( didn’t we all! ), then on to Charlotte’s Web, Madeline, and The Borrowers. And Eloise, what would life be without Eloise who owned a devilish schipperke and poured water down the brass mail slots at The Plaza in NYC.
Hats off to everyone who required book reports. Pure torture at the time; but without them, I’d never have discovered Anne of Green Gables or met the fearful Long John Silver. And special appreciation to those brave souls at Murrah who led me through Romeo and Juliet, The Scarlet Letter, Tom Sawyer, and Hamlet.
I’m even grateful to crabby old Mr. Hunter who made me read Time Magazine each week, despite dire threats from JPS headquarters. Occasionally he overstepped and his temper could be explosive, but he was fighting a life- threatening disease he concealed from everyone. Things reached a peak during the Kennedy assassination and its attendant fallout. As always, Mr. H had his own opinions and didn’t hold back. “You can’t be a journalist if you don’t know what’s going on,” he insisted. A few parents complained. As a result, Dick King, head of the JPS board, burst into his classroom on a Time Magazine Day to see for himself if treason was percolating at Murrah High School. I was sitting on the third row with a scandalous, red-light, siren inducing copy of Time open on my desk. Mr. H pressed his lips into a tight line; his eyes rolled to the ceiling as he watched Mr. King stroll around the classroom to see for himself. Apparently, we passed. No one was planning a political uprising, a riot, or a repeat of the Bay of Pigs invasion. Rebellion was not flourishing in Hoofbeat land, and Mr. King let the matter drop. However, I learned an early lesson about the power of words, and the truth of the adage “the pen is mightier than the sword.”*
There’s been fun along the way too: piles of Archie and Veronica comic books, Dick Tracy, and Flattop Jones, obtaining a paperback copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover from a disreputable bookstore in New Orleans and furtively sharing it with my friends. Discovering Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson. And last, but certainly not least, our pal Alfred E. Newman. “What, me worry?” And I can’t forget my afterhours fun of keeping a flashlight close to my bed, so I could finish reading after Mama snapped off my light. I’d mastered the skill of smuggling copies of Esquire out of my grandfather’s office, as well as the latest Raymond Chandler. It took me a while to understand the seductive Vargas drawings and the subtle cartoons in his New Yorker. But I learned that the world was wider than Little Lulu and Howdy Doody.
So, thank you everyone for passing along one of life’s greatest gifts, the joy of words. Because of you, I learned to love poetic words that rang like silver bells and turned dull thoughts into diamonds. Because of you, I entered the world with a good education, an appreciation of knowledge, and an appetite for more. A diploma is not the end of learning, only its beginning. I’m a bibliophile. Thankfully, there is no cure.