As a child I devoured books. I read them with as much enthusiasm as I gave to playing or to eating. I seemed to need to read, and did so for hours, every day. I was a fast reader, I still am, and burned my way through a book a day. I thought it was great if a book was really thick, and might last a week. Being the child of bohemian parents I was not allowed to watch much television, and of course there were no computers or cell phones to distract me.
When I was 8, 9, and 10 years old I lived with my mother in my stepfather's wooden house truck. We drove all over the United States, stopping at craft fairs and Renaissance art fairs throughout the country. We traveled from the west coast to the east coast, from Mexico to Canada.
My parents sold their handmade jewelry (stepdad) and clothing (mom) to tourists, and I didn't go to school. I had a lot of time on my hands in those days, and usually spent them exploring whatever town, or forest, or river we happened to be camping next to, and by reading.
My stepfather is a collector. Our house was a handcrafted rolling museum of his collections of turn of the century brass fittings, crystal bud vases, art nouveau glass kerosine lamps, colored glass automotive dashboard parts, leaded glass windows, antique glass beaded curtains, and even a cast iron pot-bellied stove that glowed red in the winter. It was a beautiful home, and it also held his collection of L.Frank Baum's wonderful Oz books.
Those twelve or so books, all very early hard-bound editions, became my best friends during the three years we lived in the house truck. I read and re-read them at least six times each. Dorothy and Ozma, Betsy and Trot and I were all fast friends, and went on adventures together, even though I was alone in the house truck. J.R. Niell's fantastic, amazing, delightful illustrations took me away to an elegant, art-nouveau world of magic and chivalry and where sweetness always beat out the dark forces. Funny, brave, and endlessly creative, these stories from 1908 are a gentle voice from another world, and helped me cope with our own real-life journey into the unknown.
Dorothy's adventurous journeys weren't the only thing I shared with the books. Strangely enough, although I was living in a time 150 years later my own home closely resembled that of the time period. My stepfather and mother's taste ran to the Victorian, and I read these beautiful books sitting on velvet cushions by the light of a stained glass kerosine lamps. When it was time for bed, I crawled up my oak steps into my little wooden loft over the kitchen area below, and slept under a vintage quilt and with a large skylight just above my head. I would lay there listening to the night that was right outside my little loft, and dream of meeting Ozma.
When I grew up, the books were sold. I was saddened by the news, but then I got a job at one of the most wonderful bookstores in the world, Powell's Books. In those magical, hallowed halls I had access to the most obscure and interesting out-of-print used books anywhere on the globe.
Over the next three years I kept a close eye on the "Middle Readers 'B'" section in the children's room. There, L.Frank Baum's (and later Ruth Plumly Thompson's) books were shelved, and once in a while a slightly battered early edition like the ones in the house truck would appear. I never appreciated my employee's discount more than when I could use it to rebuild the collection. Now my own bookshelves proudly display my own collection of these magical books, and I pick them up all the time to get inspiration!
I am still soothed by the graceful illustrations of JR Neil, and the echoes of the voices of L.Frank Baum and Ruth Plumly Thompson. May their spirits be thanked by the heartfelt gratitude of all of the children they comforted and inspired.