Last week I made another visit to the Scrap Exchange, Durham’s Disneyland for crafters and thrift shop junkies.
I hit gold.
In their huge book section, I picked up a green hardcover book that had the telltale color, texture, size and aroma of an old school library book. It still had the little pocket pasted onto the inside of the back cover. And, tucked into that pocket was the original card.
The book originally came from Tom’s River High School. Coincidentally, Tom’s River is very close to where my mom grew up. The first time it was checked out, it was due November 20, 1962. The last time it was returned to the high school library was January 8, 1979.
The book is “Betsy and the Great World,” by Maud Hart Lovelace. Her Betsy series was one of the written joys of my life. I read and reread these books whenever I felt lonely; and for a kid in a military family, it was more often than you might think.
The books go from early readers to Betsy’s marriage and the beginnings of WWI. Betsy, Tacy, and Tib were my closest friends, and B’s family was my second family, always there for a singalong and an onion sandwich at Sunday night supper.
To honor the books that I loved so much, I thought that I’d tell you about my all-time favorite books; the ones that I stayed up late reading and the ones, like Betsy, that I’d pull off the shelf when I needed its comfort.
— “Seventeenth Summer,” by Maureen Daly. Written in 1942, it’s the story of Angie Morrow, a 16-year-old girl living in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin. I read it in the sixth grade and it set me up for all kinds of disappointment when I was going through my own 17th summer.
Hey, not all of us can be willowy, self-possessed, blond cheerleaders. I adore the book and whole mood and energy I get when I read it.
— “Chesapeake,” by James Michener. I read this in the ninth grade on a two-week class trip to Mexico. It was my first Michener. Love all of his books, but this multi-generational novel about families on the eastern shore of Virginia is my flannel pajamas, cozy Michener.
— “The World According to Garp,” “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” “A Son of the Circus,” and “Hotel New Hampshire,” all by John Irving. In one page of this author’s work, he can make you cry, laugh, and want to throw the book across the room in a fit of rage.
His work is easy to read, but hard to digest. All of his characters seem like real people, full of quirks, nobility and faults. I have never read a book with odder, yet more believable characters.
John Irving will challenge you and your whole world.
— “Devil in the White City,” by Erik Larson. This is the nonfiction account of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and the serial killer, HH Holmes, who used it as his personal hunting ground. Larson writes history that reads like fiction. I read everything he writes, and not only because reading nonfiction makes me feel smart.
During this apocalypse that is our lives, I’ve been reading lots of thrillers; it makes me appreciate that at least I’m not being stalked by a crazed killer, and I love a good twist. Recently I read, “Behind Closed Doors,” by B.A. Paris.
So, if I may suggest, Gentle Reader, put down the remote and pick up a book. You can take a trip without a mask that will change you forever.
Thanks for your time.
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