I didn’t learn to read until I was in the third grade and had turned 8 years old. By today’s standards, that makes me hopelessly behind the curve. By my standard, it’s a reason to make up for lost time. I’ve been doing that since I began reading. As a child, I read on the bus and during the walk home from the bus stop. I read by the streetlight after bedtime. I read books during the school day when the teacher’s plans didn’t interest me. As an adult, I rarely go anywhere without a book. I read new stories and never tire of re-reading my favorites. I read both fiction and non-fiction, though fiction is more often in my hands. For the most part, I read serious books. My favorite are well-written stories that have human happiness at their core and that kind of story makes up the bulk of what I choose to read.
For the coming school year, a few teachers at my school have organized a book club, with a book to discuss each month of the year. I’ve read a few of the books on the list and picked up some more with plans to participate. So it was that earlier this week I found myself reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowlands. It’s a technically brilliant book, written well and with a compelling story and fascinating characters. Lahiri can turn a phrase when it comes to the human condition and I enjoyed reading the book. But it his by no means a happy story and in that respect it wasn’t the escape I like my books to be. In aftermath of the read, I needed something happy to restore my equilibrium. And so I turned to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books.
These stories were the very first books I can recall truly reading on my own. I loved them and re-read them so often that to this day I have certain passages memorized. I read them to JT when he was old enough to appreciate the stories and cherish those memories. Each August, I pick up one of my Laura books and re-read it. This year, I chose On the Banks of Plum Creek and it was just the anecdote to the melancholy of the book that proceeded it. Ingalls Wilder may have been writing for children, but her loving descriptions of the places and things Laura knew is the gold standard of descriptive writing. From the prairie sunlight to the feel of a cold creek on a hot summer day, her books remind me of the simple pleasures of being. These books have meant the world to me and I love them beyond measure and description, in a way that I expect Laura would certainly understand.