On JCO and books

Am currently reading the collection of essays and reviews by Joyce Carol Oates called In Rough Country (2010), and was delighted to read that her first ‘mentor’ was her grandmother.

“If I had a single mentor who guided me into my writing life – or at any rate encouraged me – it wasn’t any of my teachers, wonderful though they were, or any of my university colleagues in the years to come, but my grandmother … Along with articles of clothing she’d sewed or knitted for me, my grandmother gave me books for Christmas and my birthday, year after year …’

Without comparing myself in any way to JCO, it took me straight back to my own childhood and my grandmother who used to give me books. Nana loved going to auctions and having the odd bid (a bit like the Queen Mother having a flutter at the track), and one of the things she used to bid on were lots of old books – for me. And not any kind of weary old books, but books bound in leather, books with embossed spines and faded ribbon markers, and classics such as The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (which still has tucked among its pages a very bad poem written by myself in turquoise inkĀ in 1980).

Unlike JCO who grew up with hardly books to speak of in the farmhouse of her early childhood (not even a Bible), my own farm home had a modest shelf of books. My mother, who is a very practical woman, always believed that it was better to borrow books from the library than buy them.

So it was with enormous delight that, at about age 13, when my aunt and uncle Margaret and Daniel Curlett were moving overseas for an indefinite period, they left several boxes of books at our house – and I was allowed to read any of them I wanted. The excitement!

Like my sensible mother, I get my books from the library these days, mainly because books are so expensive to buy new; yet also, there are so many wonderful books being published all the time that it would simply be too difficult to choose only one to buy when I’ve got the choice of thousands in our new Auckland Supercity system – 55 libraries, as the literature boasts.

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