Feb 1, 2010

Book of Marvels

Until I lost my job at the real estate office, I was blessed to enjoy the company of a co-worker's grandson, call him Bill, when she would bring him in for a visit. Age 6 or so, little Bill loved to work the old typewriter we still had. (Amazing to call an IBM Selectric "old," but that's how far we've come, I guess.) We would enjoy conversation and he even made me little presents, so I would say we had become friends across the generations.

One day his grandmother, call her Mary, asked me about reading material for Bill. In a flash I was transported back to my own childhood, remembering my enchantment with a book called Richard Halliburton's Book of Marvels. As I remembered it, he was an independent soul who traveled and wrote about places he had been. For some reason the Blue Grotto stuck in my memory, but other specifics escaped me. His writing was the thing, more matter-of-fact than breathless, but the places he visited and wrote about were so amazing that the book was an eye-opener for a boy of 7 or 8. That's how old I suppose I was when I found it on the school library shelves, and devoured it eagerly. Oh, it was illustrated with photographs, too.

At any rate, Mary found a copy of it on eBay or Amazon and picked it up for less than $20. It was heavily used, so she repaired the binding with some heavy black tape and gave it to Bill, who loved it.

Isn't it something? A book from 1941 enters the imagination of a boy in 1959 thanks to a well-run school library. Forty years later the digital age makes it possible for a a grandmother to find the book at a reasonable cost, and spur the imagination of her grandson. Reading is a legacy we can pass on, if we only take the time to do it.

By the way, a quick visit to Amazon just now showed "four copies (used) from $89.50." Ulp.

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