Reading: A Time and a Place
by Danielle Young
It’s a universal experience, isn’t it? The way that a smell or sound can instantly transport you back in time. The smell of cinnamon and apple cider takes you back to Christmas at Grandma’s, or the smell of nail polish reminds you of getting ready for high school prom. We’ve all had that experience.
I’m sure that the readers among us can attest to a similar tie between books we’ve read and the times and places we’ve read them.
I’ve always been a reader, one who grew up among readers. We had more books than space in my childhood home, but it was cozy to be surrounded by so many opportunities for adventure. Even as a kid, I drew strong emotional connections between the story being read and the situation I was in at the time.
Dr. Seuss’s Oh Say Can You Say? belongs on the lap of my mom, snuggled back in the corner of the gray-beige couch. I fingered the fraying threads—pulled loose by a family cat—on the couch’s right arm, and giggled as my mom huffed and puffed and mock-muddled her way through the silly rhymes of bottles and beetles and battles.
And Charlie on the Chocolate Factory belongs to my dad’s lap, and his old leather chair, a hand-me-down from a great-grandfather I barely remembered. Behind me, my dad is firmer than my mom—less silly, more serious, but delighted in Dahl’s dark humor and full of animation as he performed the parts of Augustus, Veruca, Violet and Mike.
The Chronicles of Narnia—all of them, read quickly, back-to-back—belong on the couch under the front window in blazing hot summertime. I wore a tank top and pajama shorts. The front door was propped open by a steady stream of the air conditioner installation crew and the hope that this would finally be the day they got it working. The Narnians wanted Christmas—I just wanted a breeze.
I first met The Hobbit on a plane ride to India. I made friends and learned about a foreign culture while I traveled; and I watched dwarves and a wily little hobbit defeat an evil dragon. The hope of doing the impossible still lingers when I think about the struggles faced in the region where my Indian friends live.
In college, after dark and long hike through some hills, lying flat on the rocky soil and bundled in a sweatshirt and blanket, with the heads of six friends clustered in a circle over our books and the lamplight, we took turns reading aloud—and there is Homer’s Odyssey. I don’t remember the details of the story, but I remember being cold and having to pee, and the thrill I felt when the story swung upward just as the sun peaked over the horizon.
I met Anna Karenina at camp, the summer before I moved out of my parents’ home and considered myself a “real” adult. Anna warned me to be true: be true to who I am, yes, but hold on to the Truth more firmly than ever.
In Italy, the local bookstore had one shelf of English books, and so I spent the end of a three week trip sprawled in front of a window fan reading half a dozen Nicholas Sparks books. The Von Trapp Family Singers are on a bus in Greece, when I could stay awake long enough to make sense of what I was reading. Louise Penny belongs at my in-laws’, where Small Town, Utah mirrors Three Pines, and John Green is in a guest house on the Central Coast, with my babies napping on the other side of the door and me worrying that someday they will be teenagers.
Isn’t that one of the amazing things about stories? The authors wrote them in a certain time and place, and shared them with me, and the stories became a part of my life. My college days are inextricably tied to Homer, just as Roald Dahl shaped my childhood. And the stories that have become part of me continue to share themselves: I will share with my children the stories that spoke loudest to me, and in turn, those stories become a part of our home and are woven in my children’s life stories.
Not every book belongs somewhere—many, probably most, fade into distant memory without a clear emotional connection to the place. But sometimes—the right book and the right place collide, and the two become inseparable.
Danielle Young lives in California with her husband, kindergartener son and preschool-aged daughter. In between working full-time with homeschool parents and raising her own littles, Danielle blogs at SensibleWhimsy.com, where she writes about homeschooling, parenting, and, of course, reading.
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