Thursday, July 9, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Books and My Big Sisters

Me and my big sisters.  "You used to be so cute," they love to tell me.
They used to be pretty darn cute themselves!
My sister Pat and I were in her car recently, trying to find our way from one place to another.  I was on my phone, pulling up Mapquest, and I had to ask her to pull over.  "I get nauseated trying to read my phone in the car," I told her, and she burst into laughter.

This is not because my sister is evil.  What she was laughing about, as I knew without her having to say so, is how much I've changed.  As a kid, I read constantly in the car.  Front seat, back seat, smooth highway, gravel road--didn't matter.  I'd plow through multiple books on road trips, rolling my eyes when my sisters would ask, "How can you DO that?!?"  My ability started to taper off sometime in my 20s, and now I am completely unable to read more than a few words in a car or bus.  (Trains and planes are still good, thank God.)

I read all the way to Canada.
Most people in my life, including my husband, kids, and good friends, wouldn't think twice about me not being able to read in the car.  Only my sisters know what I used to be able to do.  My sisters know everything about my reading life.  They have been my reading teachers and companions for over forty years.

They started reading aloud to me when I was little.  Aged 11 (the twins) and 13 when I was born, they were happy to revisit childhood favorites with me and to see what picture books had been published since their younger years.  I learned to read quickly, and appropriated books that had been theirs: Heidi, Eight Cousins, King of the WindWild Animals I Have Known.  They shaped my taste, buying me books for birthdays and holidays, helping me recognize obscure gems at garage sales, stopping by the library to select books for me on days I was home in bed.
We always take books camping.  But this is probably a "posed candid," as our dad called them.
Peg had particular influence on me as a young reader.  We both remember the summer we spent reading The Silver Chair together on the chaise lounge after dinner.  One night she'd read two chapters aloud, and the next night I'd read one.  When I was in the hospital getting my appendix out, she decided I was ready to move on from Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, and brought me my first Agatha Christie novel.  My 8th grade graduation gift from her was a Jane Austen omnibus. (She also named her daughter Emma.) She introduced me to Dickens, but was thoroughly annoyed with me the year she got Watership Down as a Christmas gift, because I read it before she had a chance.

It wasn't just Peg, though.   On my 8th birthday, Liz bought me not one, not two, but THREE books that became absolute favorites:  A Little Princess,  The Good Master and Understood Betsy.  A little later, Pat let me borrow her e.e. cummings collection and Hard Times.  As I grew towards adulthood, I started trading book titles and authors with them, and we figured out where our tastes overlapped--which is nearly, but not quite everywhere.  I struggled through Confederacy of Dunces and She's Come Undone because Liz raved about them, but I detested them both.  Peg keeps trying to get me to read Reading Lolita in Tehran, but I just couldn't get into it.  On the other hand, when I encouraged her to read Prodigal Summer, she dismissed it as middle-aged wish fulfillment.
This picture has nothing to do with this post, but it cracks me up.  Easter finery ca. 1968.
Usually, though, we enjoy each other's picks.  We click especially well with genre fiction.  Peg and I are the mystery fans, both delighting in a character-driven, psychological mystery, preferably British.  Pat is my go-to for fantasy, and I will forever be in her debt for getting me to read The Thief and its sequels.  Liz is good at finding light hearted books, like Dog On It.  She kept bringing fun books to our parents, as they got progressively more house-bound, and the rest of us kept swiping them to read instead.

My apprenticeship has long since ended, and I push books on my sisters with the same enthusiasm they have always shown me.  A few weeks ago, I handed Pat a copy of Gone Girl, and a few weeks before that, I checked out Blue Monday at the library for Peg, because she'd been intrigued when she saw Tuesday's Gone on my end table.  "Got anything good for me to read?" is a common question between all of us.

These reading sisters have become reading moms and reading aunts.  We shake our heads at parents who tell their kids "Just three books!" at the library.  "It's a LIBRARY, man.  Let them get all the books they want," we mutter to each other.  Kids in our families still get books on birthdays and holidays.  Liz's sons' outgrown books formed the backbone of my classroom library.  As we continued on in the car the other day, Pat gave me a few suggestions of read-alouds her kids loved when they were my kids' ages.  I took note.  I know she knows what she's talking about.  She's my big sister, after all.
Look at them checking out that salamander.  How adorable are they?

Books We Shared

The Magic Pin
Oliver Twist
Hard Times
The Woman in White
Eight Cousins
Wild Animals I Have Known
A Little Princess
Understood Betsy
Murder at the Vicarage
King of the Wind: The Story of the Godolphin Arabian
They Do It with Mirrors
The Silver Chair
e. e. cummings 73 poems
Bread and Jam for Frances
Magic Elizabeth
Watership Down
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile
Playing for the Ashes

Wendy's favorite books »


  1. What a trip down memory lane, and what a wonderful childhood recollection! Mom knit the gold sweater and I am wearing my first knit headband, which took me days and days to make, 12 stitches across. Those pink easter always going above and beyond on the sewing machine. Oh, but this is about books, right? Your deep affection/affliction with them is a fantastic inspiration, Wendy!

  2. I still think our lack of TV and other screens has a lot to do with my obsession.

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed this reading love story starring you and your sisters. Your deep affection for books and your siblings shines through!

    1. Yes, I do adore my sisters and books! Thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. I love this! It's wonderful that your sisters shared a love of reading with you and that you have these awesome memories!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction


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