Monday, July 23, 2012

THE BROWN BOOKS

I absolutely love books.  While I will read an occasional fiction book, I prefer non-fiction by far.  The fiction that I did learn to read and enjoy, I mainly picked up from high school Literature courses.  One particular teacher, Ms. Belden was the main person to make me appreciate fiction writing.  She introduced me to authors such as Steinbeck, Sinclair, and Lewis.  These were authors that wrote fiction for a purpose and to get philosophies and messages across to the readers to make the readers think.  However I was reading fiction books many years before and enjoying the stories just for the stories.  It was a time before I was able to pull messages from what the author was writing about.

When I was young, in the sixties, there was not an internet to look things up instantaneously.  The best way to do research was by using something called an encyclopedia.  The encyclopedia  that was best known and considered to be the best out there was the Encyclopedia Britannica.  The set of books were not cheap and usually consisted of a minimum of twenty volumes covering every topic you could think of from letter A to Z.  The Encyclopedia Britannica also threw in as a bonus some extras like classic novels.

I am not sure how my parents pulled it off but somehow they managed to get our family a complete set of the Encyclopedia Britannica that included a set of classic novels written for kids.  We were not a wealthy family and my parents scraped by as much as they could, so the purchase of an encyclopedia set was a major coup that they pulled off somehow.  The books were abridged and had large print but they were edited so well, they were able to get the whole story and remain an enjoyable read.  I am not sure how many of these classic novels were initially included with the encyclopedia but there were quite a few.  I am thinking that ten classics for kids were included in the set.

I don't remember when the massive set of books arrived, but I always remember that they were kept in a small bookcase in the living room.  The books were all brown with a slight gold lettering on the binding of each of them.  I am told that as soon as the books arrived I began leafing through them and, when finding a topic of interest, would stop and read.  Usually after reading an article on one topic, it would arouse my curiosity about another topic, which I would dutifully look up and learn some more.

Soon I was finding solace on dark winter nights or muggy summer nights by taking one of the big books up to my room and read about places far away, about people who were famous and why they were famous among many other things.  I did not restrict myself to just reading the volumes of the encyclopedia, but read the kids novels as well.  There were some great titles in those books.  "Treasure Island", "Kidnapped", "Black Beauty". as well as one book that had stories about children written by Charles Dickens.  This was the book that captured my imagination more than any of the others.  This book marked the beginning of my first author that I felt I wanted to read everything he wrote.  My love for Dickens would last right up until today, even though he would eventually be replaced as my favorite author by John Steinbeck as I grew older.

Still, it was this set of brown books containing classics for kids that continued to grow my love of reading and of books.  Those books became an important part of my life.  Both the encyclopedia and the classic novels formed my early years as I headed toward my teenage years.  I would eventually stop reading them as my taste for books became more complicated and more into the non-fiction realm.  The brown books eventually were part of a distant memory.  They were indeed books for kids and I stopped picking them up to read.

At some point in time the whole set of encyclopedia and classic novels disappeared from my parents living room.  Pretty soon they were all forgotten as part of my childhood that I had out grown and had vanished somewhere else, never to be seen again.  However, even though the books were not to be seen or read, there was always a special place in my mind and memories for those books, particularly the Dicken's one.

As time went by and I got married and embarked on my career, I had little to do with what was going on in my parent's house.  I really had no idea all that was in that house but I did know that there were two large barrels in the garage that were sealed and I never questioned what was in them, that is until one Saturday morning when I went over to help dad clean out the garage a bit.

Mom and dad had decided it was time to get rid of some of the old stuff that they had collected over the years and I was going to go over and help them move stuff out.  When I got there, those two big barrels were sitting in the middle of the garage.  As I stood there my curiosity got the better of me and so I asked my mother what was in those mysterious barrels.

It turned out that in one of the barrels were old clothes.  clothes not only of my mothers, but clothes from generations past.  I had no interest in any thing in that barrel.  Then came one of the shocks of my life.  In the other barrel apparently were books that had been saved over the years.  The majority of the books were Reader's Digest condensed books that my dad use to read all the time.  I never really got into the condensed books because the majority of them were fiction.  By this time I was firmly engrossed in the non-fiction genre of books.  I decided to look through a few of the books just to see if there might be something that I may want before they got donated or thrown away.  As I began going through the books I felt an emotional shock that made me wonder what my parents were thinking.

The first books that I latched onto were a couple of my grandpa's old mechanical engineering books that explained how railroad steam engines worked and the math behind how steam engines worked.  They were complicated books and were not in very good shape.  The bindings were falling away from the pages and I realized that even though I wanted to keep them, they would take special care.  I took them and wrapped them in ziplock bags and put them in my basement where they still sit.

Then came the second shock.  There, sitting among all the condensed books, were the brown books of children's classics from the set of encyclopedias.  I immediately questioned my parents on how in the world could they possibly think about getting rid of these books.  All of the love I had for these books as a child came flooding back over me.  I still loved them.  They were part of our family life as I was growing up, they were part of my life as I was growing up.  These were the books that filled many lonely nights and days in my bedroom with me, firing my imagination as I read them.  I pulled them out one by one looking at the bindings to see the title of each book.  Finally, I read on one of the bindings "Dicken's Stories of Children".  I held that book longer than the others and leafed through it.  These books were not going to leave the family.  I found nine of the books and packed them up and took them home and put them in my own bookcase in my living room.  They were back in circulation.  In the next few weeks I read a few of them reliving my own childhood and my discovery of books.

A few years went by and before I knew it, my own son was reading books with the fervor that I had read books when I was a child.  He discovered the brown books on the bookshelf one day and began reading "Treasure Island".  He seemed to have a sense that these books were special and rather fragile.  He always turned the pages easily as he read the books one after another.  As he grew up he read the brown books several times over.  These books that had helped me fall in love with reading had found a new life by helping my son fall in love with reading.  I still read a lot.  My son still reads a lot.  Both of us can look to our love of books and give some credit to those old brown books that came with the encyclopedia set that had been bought so many years before.

The brown books will forever be a part of my life.  They still sit in the bookcase in my living room and will stay there as long as I have any say in it.  When I see them on that shelf, I look at them with fondness.  The brown books impacted my life and my son's life.  Perhaps they will eventually impact another generation's love of books, even though the internet makes that highly unlikely.  Never the less, they will always be a part of my family.

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