There had to be a time when it began,

Learning letters and stringing them into words,

But I don’t remember a time

When I couldn’t read

First schoolbooks and library books

And my weekly reader,

Then the discovery of books

Stored in a cherry bookcase with glass doors

In my mother’s living room,

Wherein I found

Little Men, Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom (I already

Had my own copy of Little Women) and

Discarded spelling books that had a short story for

Each weekly list of words.

I have always loved words and it didn’t matter

Where they were printed—on paper, cereal boxes,

On the backs of cans and jars and bottles in my

Mother’s pantry. Words that told you what was

Inside and how to make things like fudge or pudding

Or frosting with the box of Hershey’s Unsweetened cocoa

Or transforming Quaker’s Old fashioned oats into a bowl

Of hot cereal or oatmeal raisin cookies, or even how to

Send away boxtops for a free decoder ring; I was not interested

In decoder rings but my brother, Jim, was.   I was perhaps,

Obsessed with words at a very early ag e, striving to learn

As many words as humanly possible and at the same time

Be able to spell them correctly, reading the dictionary in

Bed at night, (My son Steve got that from me) memorizing

Words and their meanings, fascinated with British words that

Were different but meant the same thing, as American words, such

As “Boot” for “Trunk”, Reading Little Women and Nancy Drew

And the adventures of four children in England who had thrilling


I attempted to read monthly magazines in my grandmother’s bathroom

That were written in German—I neither spoke nor read German but it

Was the only reading material in my Grandmother’s bathroom—

Eventually, I realized it would never be enough to read all of the books

In the world—I wanted to own them as well. I started as a teenager,

Searching for books in thrift shops, which were usually 25 cents each

And gradually I began building up my first collection of fiction; in the

1960s, however, I began collecting cookbooks and there were also

The magazines and catalogs that filled my mailbox. I am willing to recycle

Most magazines but not the ones devoted to cooking. Looking around, I am

Satisfi8ed that, while I may not own all of the books in the world,

I’ve gotten off to a good start.


Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted February 17, 2009

Updated July 12, 2018



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