My Love Affair with Books
Ah, the books, the books, a whole boxful of books! Our teacher had brought the travelling library. And while my one-room country school had no library [I think this was probably true of most schools in my environs and beyond in those days], I remember with fondness the school district’s lending library. I could read the Hardy Boys, the Black Stallion series, Sir Charles G.D. Roberts’s animal stories and even Jack London’s Buck.And every after-lunch our teacher read to us; on one occasion it was Anne of Green Gables. And when I had saved a little money I bought Lassie or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I do not remember my mother ever saying, “Get your nose out of that book.” But she may have thought it.
I attended the town’s high school where we studied a novel or two plus a Shakespearean play each year; the school had some unorganized books on shelves along one wall of a closet and I remember supplementary reading and book reports. I read The Thirty-nine Steps and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Even though my highest mark in high school was Chemistry and my lowest English, I took an English major in university. I opted to buy many books; I bought every textbook and most recommended reading books so that I might underline, star, write in the margin and reread later. I remember buying The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. I underlined and when the lecturer explicated, wrote his comments in the margins. I lent the book to my second cousin who lost it. It was my treasure – Shakespeare – and so beautifully annotated. She was sorry and bought me a new one, sans notes. I took a Canadian Literature course and became aware of McClelland and Stewart’s New Canadian Library. My book collection began in earnest. I bought most of Stephen Leacock’s books and many commentaries about him. In addition, I collected Canadian novelists There was poetry too in the Confederation Poets and some anthologies of contemporary Canadian poets. Many of these texts and acquisition I have kept.
I have taught high school English all my career; besides writing and grammar and poetry, there were always books: William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad, Margaret Laurence, C.S. Lewis, Roger Lemelin, Rudy Wiebe and more. I have taught in three provinces, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia, and all mandated we teach Shakespeare: all curricula had Julius Caesar in grade 10 and Macbeth in grade 11, often it was Hamlet in 12. Occasionally they added or substituted with A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Romeo and Juliet or Twelfth Night. I have taught Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches , Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles , Conrad’s Lord Jim, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Wyndham’s The Chrysalids, Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. In high school I became Mr. Yearbook; every year the students and I published the school’s annual and I learned a lot about layout and design and about printing and publishing.
We have upgraded our home numerous times as circumstances warranted and each new home saw larger and larger book shelves or office area for my books. I have a history collection (Mennonite, Canadian, and other), a religious/Christian collection (from my Bible College days of studying theology and beyond – commentaries, textbooks and references), an English and high school section (included are high school texts and my yearbooks and Creative Writing magazines), and, what I am proudest of, my Canadiana section (I used to collect all Governor General book awards and Stephen Leacock humour award winners until recently when literary selection committees picked such drivel). Even today, when I attend a public lecture or hear someone I know, I will often buy the book, autographed if possible.
Since I retired from teaching, I have published ten books: two of family history, five of poetry, one book of humour, one novella and one collection of my writings and hope to publish several more. I am published in a number of anthologies and magazines and I keep all these. I have helped six people publish. These books form part of my collection. I belong to a poetry club and I am their unofficial editor and have helped them publish their last five anthologies.
And what book has influenced me most? I belong to a Mennonite church who are a people of the book, The Bible; I take that as my guide to faith and practice – to lifestyle. In the secular realm I like Stephen Leacock and point proudly to him as our great Canadian humourist.
In poetry I greatly admire A. M. Klein. But I am a humanitarian and a lot of what I have read in Mennonite history, Canadian novels, and world thinkers have shaped me. In fact, I would revise Tennyson to say, “I am a part of all that I have read.” I married a librarian and avid reader. She understands my love of books; and when we go shopping in a mall, I often tire first, and I can then be found in the bookstore. We may have to downsize our home soon and what will hurt the most is I may have to get rid of some of my books.