I own a lot of romance novels. You already know that. It is not enough for me just to read the books I love. I have to own them. I love seeing the books on my shelves, and still feel an odd little thrill each and every time I open one of them, whether it be for the first or the hundredth time. I am positive that there are books in my collection that I have read at least one hundred times.
I am proud of the romance novel collection I have amassed over the years. And I am even more proud of what my collection represents. Each time I go back to one of my favorite books I am reminded not just of the characters and the story, but about where that book fits in the rich tapestry of my life. Where I was and who I was with the first time I read it, someone I recommended the book to, a sad event, a happy milestone. A great many things happened while I was reading those books. Inside the covers of my favorites is the story of my life, and the great adventure that I have had with all the people I am extraordinarily lucky to share my life with.
Last year, I read a short novel by Ilene Beckerman called “Love, Loss and What I Wore.” In the book, Ilene uses her wardrobe as a time capsule of sorts to look back on the events of her life. For me it is not clothes, but rather books, that are the thread that ties my own life story together. I have loved books since long before romance novels became my genre of choice, and have been thinking a lot lately about the books that gave me my start; the ones that might not live on my shelves right now, but that live in my heart forever. I have read too many books over my nearly 30 years to remember each and every one, but there are some, especially in my earliest book-loving years, that are simply unforgettable. Here are three.
The Handy Girls
While certainly not the first book my parents read to me, The Handy Girls is the first one I remember vividly, and also the first one that I would go on to memorize (turns out I have a freakishly good memory when it comes to books). The Handy Girls were the coolest girls around. They had their very own clubhouse and could fix anything from bikes to broken cookie jars. It was a book full of “girl power”; perfect for a very small girl with very big dreams. I remember climbing onto my dad’s lap so he could read it to me. I loved when it when it was time to read. Especially if the book was The Handy Girls.
My old, tattered, copy of The Handy Girls now lives in my parent’s house in Pittsburgh. Waiting. I hope one day, if I am lucky enough to have a daughter, I can share it with her. I hope I can read it to her, and watch the little roots of her own big dreams take hold. I hope she comes to know the joy of reading, as I have. And I hope, most of all, that she is lucky enough, as I have been, to watch her biggest dreams come true.
The Teeny Tiny Woman
At some point, I think around kindergarten, I taught myself how to read. The Teeny Tiny Woman was the first book I read all by myself. I don’t remember much about what happened right before and right after I read it, but I vividly remember finishing it for the first time. “I can read,” I thought. And read I did. Anything and everything I could. It would be impossible to count the number of books I have read to myself in my lifetime, but there is something both magical and miraculous about the very first one.
Kristy’s Great Idea: The Baby Sitters Club
This book, and the entire series that followed, changed my life, much like romance novels would some ten years later. They are the books that introduced me to the virtue of reading a series in its exact order, and then going back and starting the series again. They are the books that taught me the joy of losing myself in the story. They are the books that taught me to love being a book-owner. They are the books that taught me how to be a good friend, how to be strong, and most importantly, to always - always - be yourself.
My entire collection now resides in a huge box in my parent’s basement. I am certain I could still, at the age of 29, spend some happy hours with Kristy, Claudia, Stacey, Dawn and Mary Anne. I like to think that each one of those girls became a small part of me. Kristy’s know-it-all temperament; Mary Anne’s need to nurture; Stacey and Claudia’s unique sense of style. Sometimes when I am sitting on the floor surrounded by romance novels, I get a flash of a much smaller me sitting on a much different floor surrounded by Baby Sitters Club books, deciding which one to re-read first. And I smile. its comforting to know that some things - the very best things - never change.
I don’t often go on a journey down memory lane - my current existence is incredibly happy and equally thrilling on a daily basis - but when I do, it both delights and amazes me to see the person I was in the person I am. I am lucky and grateful to have a family who nurtured my love of reading, and encouraged me to be no one but exactly who I was. The three books I write about here are the books that shaped me and taught me an unparalleled love of reading, and if not for them, I might never have picked up that copy of The Stanislaski Sisters from the coffee table all those years ago. My favorite song from my favorite play urges us to measure our lives in love. Well, I do measure my life in love. And in the books I read. Lucky for me, they are one and the same.