Reading memories are primarily interior. The sensory elements set the backdrop, of course: the dark cool quiet of the childhood bedroom, the reassuring weight of the protective covers. The mother’s calm presence looming, comforting, seeming to fill the known universe. The book itself. Familiar pages, favorite images, slowly turning. But the most precious, wild, and magical parts of the memory of this routine are those of the inner landscape. They are memories of thinking, and how those important elements of thinking--reflection and storytelling and imagination--are bidden, created, by the books themselves.
The child mind enters the book and the book enters the child. The stories of the vegetable thief, the orphan, the fairy become hers. In my experience, the stirrings of empathy conjured by characters are more powerful than lessons learned in school. The multiplicity of existences--the child’s presence in that bedroom and, after reading, the characters' worlds reified through word and image--is fundamental to the best type of thinking and creativity.
Also planted is the addictive realization that we can return to these other worlds, anytime that we want, by opening the book. This combination of safety and excitement, comfort and newness will be familiar to every reader, always. The fact that this is shared with a beloved parent amplifies the lasting memory of comfort. And, isn’t that what the best childhood offers, a feeling of rootedness and stability, the anchor that will be with us always so that we can go forth, act and contribute to the world?
Childhood reading--really, all reading--expands and solidifies the interior self. Each story adds to that inner structure, a reinforced imagination, that is both reflective refuge and space for reasoned decision-making. Let’s call it our portable, internal library: our reading mind, packed with books.
It becomes the reward for getting older and being lifelong readers. It is the accumulation of years of searching, for more stories, for more occasions for empathy, for multiple worlds within and outside our own. From that place we have the tools to act deliberately in our lives, because we have grown our own conscience.
Personally I hope for a world populated by engaged readers, with strong inner selves built over time by books and reflection, who have the fortitude to resist the worst types of distractions, those that move us further away from our best selves and each other.
Thankfully, in our noisy world, we have the memory of quiet and the consolation of books, and from that place perhaps the impulse to build something ourselves.