Submitted by Susanne Bacon.
Have you ever thought over how much your reading shapes your mindset, but how it also is defined by what nation you belong to? Obviously, most people’s first books will be in their mother tongue. Mine weren’t. And my favorite was an American one, “One Morning in Maine”.
I became a lover of English literature as soon as I learned English in fifth grade. I began to favor Shakespeare over Goethe, loved Austen as much as Fontane, and preferred modern English and Irish literature by far over their German contemporaries. Our local library – I held a 2-Marks-an-hour-job for a year there as a 14-year-old – had only so many books in English. When Amazon started business over in Germany, I had boxes of English, Irish, and American literature delivered in an insane monthly to bi-weekly rate – and I devoured each and every book, some of them twice.
Then came my emigration. I had a library of about 2,000 books. I wouldn’t be able to dump all these on our new home, and my moving container was limited in size also. It hurt. Over the first yard of cookbooks I gave away I actually bawled. It was easier to hand over a car load of 500 English books to the near US barracks’ library, so other people could actually enjoy them.
When I came here, I found to my surprise that with your rent you automatically acquire the right to library card. (In Germany you have to buy that extra.) I’ll never forget the day when I, having read pretty much every last book my husband owns, ventured into the Steilacoom Library. Its size was speaking to me, so was its peaceful atmosphere and the gorgeous engraved window at its back.
But where to start? What to read? I had a few recommendations from newspapers or magazines, of course. What did Americans read, so I was not entirely thrown if they wanted to discuss it with me? I’m not talking Thoreau, Hawthorne, Dickinson, Melville, Dreiser, and all these classics. That entire canon I had been working through and hugely enjoying while studying general and comparative literature at Stuttgart University. I wanted current literature. Who was considered important? Who en vogue?
That day I set up a rule for myself that I have stuck to for more than seven years now. I will try and read every single book that turns up on my way through the fiction author alphabet of A through Z. I will skip fantasy as I have had my feed of classic legends in the Old World. Accidentally, I once ended up with a book that I found had less than a quarter of its page count for a plot, the rest was compared to “Fifty Shades of Grey”. No, I’m not into that kind of novels either.
Over the years, the most amazing books found their way home with me – genres and topics I might never have picked if I hadn’t imposed the book-by-book-rule on myself. I have discovered fantastic Sci-Fi-novels by authors that I never heard of anywhere. I’ve read fun romance and deep semi-autobiographic novels. I have learned about history and geography, about different ethnicities and their life in the US or their mother countries. I read books friends of mine have published. Ever so often I sneak in non-fiction, too. And sometimes, one of the friendly Steilacoom librarians discusses one or the other book with me in a half-whisper, so we don’t disturb those who work at the computers.
These days, I’ve reached the letters “El…”, and only a week ago I pulled another gap into the library shelf, taking along five books in a row. If I keep reading at this speed, I’ll be finished in 20 more years. By that time, the shelves before probably hold an entire quarter century of new books and new authors. Maybe I will be able to start with the letter A again. Maybe I will find different “rules” for myself. At any rate, it’s reading-fun full of good surprises and experiences. And if you come across a bigger gap on a shelf out there … maybe it was me who has just gotten herself some more food for thoughts.