I love books. I love the feel of them. I love how they look on shelves or in stacks beside the couch or bed. When I was sixteen, attending Institute of Nations in the hills outside Berkeley, I started a list of books I wanted to read.
The intent of Institute of Nations was to teach “future leaders” about Latin America and Africa. A few dozen young people were selected from throughout the United States. We read Frantz Fanon and stacks of others, had intense discussions, cooked African and Latin food, and danced in ways extremely sexual for teen-age American girls.
According to the baby book my mother kept, my first word, at eleven months, was book. We lived in a log cabin my parents built by hand the first year of their marriage. They milled their own logs and shakes for a 400-square foot cottage, eventually filled with eight of us. The inner walls of the log cabin were lined with hand-sewn burlap. We had no electricity or plumbing, and little water, money, or food, but every spare space was filled with books.
In the last year of his life, my father, who lived to be 93, re-read the classics; Anna Karenina, War and Peace, Magic Mountain. After the decades I lived near him, arriving to find him chopping wood, clearing ditches, working in the garden, picking berries, canning, opening oysters on the beach, side by side with Mom when she could still do these things, now I would find him sitting on the couch, his still-thick shock of white hair bent over a book.
At the very end of their lives (after sixty-one years when they were rarely apart, they died one after the other) my sister read Tess of the D’Urbervilles to him and Mom as they lay tucked side by side in bed.
When my sister took a break, and I read, Dad took out his hearing aid and turned away. Mom would gaze into my eyes, rapt, though she probably couldn’t understand what I was saying.
The image is by Dozie Okpalaobieri, from the wedding of Igbankwu Nwando, Miss Wonderful.