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The Carpentry of My Education

Walter MosleyJust before I was to enter the first grade, my parents decided that they needed a coffee table in the living room. That was back in the days when, in Los Angeles, there were two entry periods for the first grade: those children born nearest June started in September, and those whose birthdays occurred closer to December started in January. My birthday is January 12th, and so I matriculated at the top of 1958.

Somehow my parents decided that their table should also be my Christmas gift. They found an offer, from an encyclopedia company I think, that was a solid maple table with glass-covered bookshelves on either end. In these shelves resided, spine up, 12 red, clothbound volumes of fairy tales that were designed for young readers from 6 to 12 years in age. The first two books were for six-year-olds; the third and fourth volumes were for second graders, etc. It was, for me, an entire lifetime of reading there at the table where my parents entertained guests and watched the evening news.

I remember sitting on the floor next to that table reading those books I could and paging through the ones I didn’t fully understand. All the volumes were illustrated, and they felt big and fancy.

I don’t remember much about the stories, but that’s where I first met the elephant-king Babar and the little lost fairy named Poppy.

This Christmas gift was transformative for me because it was so beautiful, meant to last, and it was also a part of my parents, making the house we lived in a part of me. That’s what reading is — a way to socialize and civilize, the glue that holds us together.

Now in my later years, much older than my parents were when they gave me that exquisite present, all I have of those books is the nostalgia in my heart for the carpentry of my education and the love bound up in those big red books.

(via: BookReporter.com)