The first gift I ever treasured while I was growing up was a hardbound book (a Nancy Drew mystery, The Spider Sapphire Mystery; Carolyn Keene) from my aunt who used to work in a bookshop — definitely a huge deal for a young impressionable girl whose reading materials mainly consisted of magazines, comic books, textbooks, and other school-related materials.
I remember tearing through the wrapping with mounting excitement and had this foolish grin plastered on my face. It made me feel like I had grown up in some way — or at least old enough to be given something different that was mine alone. I began reading that book and did not let go until it was time for supper (my parents had this strict rule about not missing dinner for frivolous reasons hehehe).
It hardly mattered that I could barely understand half of the book’s content (with my limited English vocabulary). I was too wrapped up in the story and the exciting potential that this new activity presented. Up until then, the only outlet I could find for my fertile imagination was the endless stream of pencil sketches I drew that used to exasperate my mother (because of the litter it left behind). Suddenly, my world had expanded in ways I had never imagined.
And so began my lifelong affair with books and reading (for which I have my aunt to thank).
Many years and books later, I can still remember that exact moment when I began to realize that with books, my world need not be bound within four walls, and that there were countless others who obviously felt the same way I did (with millions of books borrowed, exchanged, sold, and re-sold throughout these years, who could doubt it?). To me, books (and reading) would always represent an escape and a refuge, a place where I can lose myself, expand my horizons, and “experience” things vicariously.
And that Nancy Drew book? It is still in our house, nestled in the old bookcase that my mother could not bear to part with when we moved to a bigger place. It looks battered and dog-eared in several places, and the pages have turned yellow and somewhat brittle, but it remains in place with some of my childhood books. I remember digging it out gingerly the last time I went home for a short vacation. It looked like a slight shove could easily it break apart, but I just could not bring myself to throw it away.
Maybe in a few years, my niece (who they say is a lot like me) would feel its irresistible pull as I once did. Or maybe she won’t. Most likely by that time e-books would be a better option, or perhaps she would prefer other books. For now, it stays where it is — a living memento of my childhood days and a silent witness to my love for books and reading.