My grandmother was an avid reader. She read most anything she could get her hands on — Reader’s Digest, Farmer’s Almanac, the Bible, mysteries, romance novels, newspapers, magazines ... gosh, I even remember her reading our set of World Book Encyclopedias just for enjoyment.
Grandma loved to read. As a matter of fact, I can remember more than one occasion where a trio of wide-eyed kids would interrupt her book late in the afternoon to ask what she was fixing for lunch. A world away on adventures only her books could give her, she would admit she had forgotten about lunch ... Eventually, she would lay down her book and would rustle up some peanut butter and crackers or an orange Popsicle. As kids, an orange Popsicle was a perfect lunch, and from my grandmother’s perspective, life was good. The kids had eaten, and she could promptly get back to her book.
Grandma read every chance she got. She read every evening, long after the rest of us had gone to bed, and she whiled away many an afternoon with yet another paperback book firmly planted on her lap as she sipped a cup of coffee and tuned out the rest of the world. I remember times when we would talk to Grandma for five minutes or so before realizing she hadn’t heard a single word we’d said — her mind (and ears) far away and involved in an adventure in her most current book.
As a small child, I can remember my grandmother reading out loud to me frequently. Grandma never spoke to the children in the family like the children we were; she spoke to us like we were adults, using words of which we had never heard and clearly giving us something to ponder. Consequently, she also read adult books to me too. There would be no fairy tales or Golden Books read to this little girl. Instead, I got the benefit of hearing a variety of selections from the Reader’s Digest, excerpts from romance novels, complete chapters from mystery novels and more newspaper and magazine articles than my little mind could ever begin to comprehend.
“Should you be reading that to her?” my grandfather would ask her more than once.
“She’s learning,” my grandmother would say. “Plus, I think she likes it.”
Like it? I loved it. It didn’t matter what she read to me, I was all ears. And she was right. I did learn a lot from her out-loud recitations.
At 4 or 5 years old, my vocabulary was quite extensive, and my spelling skills were advanced. I was actually able to read before I ever set foot in a school, and I could play Scrabble with my grandmother and almost hold my own. Bottom line was I learned all kinds of things from the stories/articles she read. But perhaps the most important part of listening to Grandma read aloud was that I learned to love reading, and I learned to love words. I always think Grandma — if she was here now — would get a kick out of the fact that I now make my living with words, reading and writing.
Grandma liked to read because it afforded her the opportunity to travel the world and experience life other than that on a small, Midwestern farm, where life was quite predictable. With a book in her hand, she was able to imagine, learn, speculate and conquer. She was more than a farmer’s wife, mother and grandmother — she could be any of the characters who lived on the pages of her books. Cooking, cleaning, household and farm/yard chores were clearly on her list, but when she could manage it, they were always on the list behind a few hours with her most current book.
Last week was Banned Books Week — an annual event celebrating our freedom to read, which hopefully draws attention to what harm may come from censorship. While the banning of books has been around far longer than any of us, probably the most recent issues involving book banning came with the well-known “Harry Potter” series, which by and large would have seemed fairly mild compared to some of the stuff Grandma used to read to me.
Now with my own book on the shelf (which has nothing in it that could come even close to being under scrutiny by book-banners), the idea of banned books hits a bit closer to home. I’m struggling to understand those who would wish to ban a book.
After all, if you don’t like the content, don’t read it. If you get halfway through a book and something offends you, close it. If you are worried about what your children read, monitor what they’re checking out at the library. Why try to ban something that doesn’t agree with your philosophies, morals or ideals? Just ignore it.
I have to think my grandmother would agree ...
BCR Editor Terri Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her new book, “Grandma’s Cookie Jar,” can be ordered at www.boxingdaybooks.com or found at various locations in the Illinois Valley.