I was very impressed by Czeslaw Milosz’s book Milosz’s ABC’s. There, in the form of a brief and alphabetically-ordered personal encyclopedia, was the story of the life of a Nobel Prize winning poet, of the people, places, and things that meant the most to him. Because his origins were so far away (Lithuania and Poland) and so long ago (1920s and 1930s), there were relatively few entries that resonated personally with me. Except it was sad to see so many fascinating people who, unknown today, died during the war under unknown circumstances.
This blog entry is my own humble attempt to imitate a writer whom I have read on and off for thirty years without having sated my curiosity. Consequently, over the next few months, you will see a number of postings under the rubric “Tarnmoor’s ABCs” that will attempt to do for my life what Milosz accomplished for his. I don’t guarantee that I will use up all 26 letters of the alphabet, but I’ll do my best. My previous posting on this theme was last month.
Well, B is for Books, the love of my life. It all started before I could read … before I could even speak English. I remember my mother reading me stories (translating them into Hungarian). And when she didn’t have a story to read, she made up one. These were just as good as the published stories. I remember walking with her from our apartment on East 120th Street to the public library next to Harvey Rice School. A few doors down, between Buckeye Road and Van Aken, there was a very good doughnut shop where we would sometimes stop.
In 1951, after my brother Dan was born, we moved to the then treeless suburbs of the Harvard-Lee area. I guess my parents didn’t want to have two boys who couldn’t speak English. I was signed up to attend second grade (even though I completed only the first half of first grade at Harvey Rice—Shhh! Please don’t tell anyone) at Saint Henry School on Harvard Road.
Once I got a handle on the English language, by about the fourth or fifth grade, I started accumulating books. On one hand, my parents were delighted at my strides in understanding English. On the minus side, whenever they got some insurance document written in legalese, I had to interpret it for them. (Ever since, I have hated that fine print crap.)
Also, the books started getting to my parents. “Jimmy, why do you need so many books?” “Uh, because I just do.” “Well, pick up after yourself please.”
Years later, the books started getting to Martine. “Jimmy, why do you need so many books?” “Uh, because I just do.” “Well, pick up after yourself please.”
Actually, I have improved some. I now own two Kindles with fifteen hundred books on them. How many physical books do I own? Oh, somewhere around six or seven thousand.
Currently, I read something like ten books a month, usually literature and history, but some travel, science, economics, and philosophy on occasion. If you are curious about my bookish habits, I suggest you check out my page on Goodreads.Com. You’ll see reviews of every book I read. Click here. You can see links to reviews off to the right side of the four or five books I have read most recently.
I have always assumed that God would let me live as long as I have books to read. And I keep buying more books. It’s like finding the genie in the bottle and wishing for an infinite number of wishes.
Okay, so I’m a bit delusional.