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For the Books That Have Impacted My Life- Part I

When I was a child a popular saying was, “reading is fundamental”. They never said fundamental to what, but nevertheless it took hold. Now it is one of my favorite sayings to use as a hash-tag.

With modern technology used so often in the classroom these days there are no more chalkboards. Instead they are using smart boards. I am from the era where you fought with your classmates over whose turn it was to wash the chalk off the board before you went home. Yep I breathed in chalk and asbestos that are probably still in my lungs, seemed exciting at the time. I have no proof of course but these things make me wonder why I have chronic migraines. I also work near Ground Zero. Just sayin.

Back in the late eighties when I was in elementary school technology wasn’t present until I was in the fifth grade. At that time we had a gigantic “state of the art” computer for all forty plus of us to share. A year later I would learn how to type on a typewriter. I wonder what year they received their big computer.

The only thing I remember doing on the computer was to play the game of the day, Oregon Trail. If all of your mules and kids didn’t die you won the game. Unfortunately I never did. Thinking about that game makes me yearn for an era where good clean fun was desired and provided.

Prior to fifth grade the big excitement in a classroom was one of two things. The first was a classmate’s birthday. That meant their parent or relative was bringing in cupcakes for an afternoon celebration. That was almost as good as it being your birthday.

Coming in second place, there was the arrival of the Scholastic box.

For those of you who will never know that joy sadly, I will explain. Once a month we took home a paper catalog of books and other products you could order through the school. When the box came that day everyone waited patiently and silently to hear your name called out so you could walk to the front of the class and retrieve your goods.

You had to pray that you were getting something that month, if you weren’t it was devastating to be there and just watch. But when it was your day it was like Christmas morning. I remember getting joke telling books, fancy pencils with cool erasers, as well as scratch and sniff stickers to decorate my black and white (they didn’t come in colors back then) composition books. Some days the book I would get created an excited anxious feeling in me so strong until I began to read it.

I still feel that when I read a description of a book I just have to read based on a review or recommendation. Now when my books arrive in Amazon boxes I still feel like a kid in grade school. I am still open the package with a high level of nervous yet excited energy. I carefully open the box, handle my new precious gift with care, and get cracking reading it. I feel sorry for those who have never known that joy. It is one of my ultimate favorite things to do after writing of course.

There have been so many books that I read that changed the course of my life. They may have affected my behavior, levels of compassion, or my discourse. They are the books I still think about no matter how long ago I read them. They are the ones I will never throw out as I hope to have one of the best personal libraries around. Mine will definitely need one of those tall ladders you move back and forth along the shelves. I can picture that room all so clearly in my head. The only thing I have to do in the meantime is to continue reading.

I have decided to share with my readers those books that are so important to me during the many phases of my life and learning. I get plenty of info from movies and TV, but really there isn’t anything quite like a good book with a big hot cup of coffee next to it.

Hence we shall begin at the beginning.

Right off the top of my head two children’s series come right to mind. The first being, The Berenstain Bears. Those books were packed so tightly in a large draw in my house. I think I had just about every one when I was growing up. They were a family of four (eventually) and had morals in each individual story. Kids learn how to behave and why while being entertained. I have saved all of my books for my future children and love buying them as presents for the new generation. I just read recently that the series has been taken over by the son of the original authors, Mr. and Mrs. Berenstain. Now they are apparently a less secular family of bears.

The next is probably my favorite of all time, until I became an adult. Her name was Cam Jansen and she set out to solve a few mysteries or two. I don’t right off remember any titles or plot lines just that I loved them. That was around the time Nancy Drew and Beverly Clearly were at the height of their fame. I never read either of those for some reason but that does sound like me. Once I know what I like I stick with it.

Another hugely popular series for preteens was the Babysitters Club. They were the end all be all of series until maybe Twilight or Harry Potter but I definitely didn’t read those nor do I have any plans to.

The Babysitters Club was pure genius. I remember the first three or four came in a pack and my cousins and I were racing to read through them all. Those were on my nightstand for many years. The series ultimately had one hundred thirty one of the original title and one hundred twenty two of the spin-off series Little Sister. There was also a television show and movie made based on this series but I don’t believe I saw either.

If I can return to the fifth grade for a moment, I remember reading My Girl that year and finishing the book in school. It was the first time a book made me weep openly in public. This has continued to be a pattern in my life. I have cried because of a book on planes, trains, and buses. I try to cover my mouth and not shout out loud when I am shocked by a plot twist. That is the best I can do. There is no shame in my game. If I am genuinely moved my emotions pour out. It is like a spiritual experience for me.

By the time I got to college I rarely read anything that wasn’t assigned to me. Reading for fun wasn’t a concept again for me until well after grad school. I think I had post-traumatic stress from reading a book per class per week for all that time. I have spent the last few years healing from this issue as well as learning to live with my chronic migraines. This has allowed more time for reading for pure pleasure only. This has become so important to me I don’t know how I lasted so long without doing it. Either way I was learning from what I was reading which is always what I am seeking to do one way or the other.

A book I was assigned in my Italian American sociology class was by the infamous author Mario Puzo but it wasn’t The Godfather, although I would read that eventually. Compared to the movie it is light-years ahead in terms of substance. The book I am talking about is called The Fortunate Pilgrim and is about an Italian American family’s struggle to achieve their piece of the American dream. It was so good I made my mother read it as well.

The professor was the reason I read another classic, Tuesdays with Morrie. You see my professor was and still is my personal Morrie. The book by Mitch Albom was subsequently made into a TV movie and Off Broadway play that I took my dad to. It was an amazing story come to life. The lessons Mitch learns are the ones we all need to learn before it’s too late.

From there my preferences during the summer of my college years was mostly all from the self-help section. It began because of a book I borrowed from a close friend. It was Dave Pelzer’s first book about the horrific tales of his childhood. A Child Called It, is a book that changed my life for sure. It was the first story that I read about such acts that seemed unimaginable to me. It was the kind of book that made me realize no matter what you have gone through you can still be the person you want to be. You can still turn your life around.  Your past does not have to define your future. Perhaps it was the reason I became so interested in true crimes stories later on and the effects they have on those involved.

As difficult as that read was, I couldn’t get enough information about the subject. This was pre-Google when I used the internet solely to check my AOL email. In a way that was better. Nowadays I would have been up straight for days on end researching until I could no longer stay awake.

However back then I just had to wait for the next book in the series of about four I think that I read. Those books brings Dave’s story through his adulthood and his life at that time.

Here is a brief clip of Dave telling his snippet of his tale:

I haven’t thought about this story in a long time. But once I did it all came flooding back to me. I have kept Dave’s books and feel they are due a reread sometime soon. I am curious how I will interrupt the story at this stage in my life. If anything I assume I will just be more impressed with his journey and all the good he continues to do. He appears to have remained the motivational speaker and writer I grew to know and admire.

As Dave Pelzer says, “you don't get over it, just accept it”.

Stayed tuned, For the Books That Have Impacted My Life Part II.
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