You are here

My Mother, the Reader

I told my mom I was going to be writing about how much she fostered my own love of reading. She said, “You know, it all started in the library, when I had one of my first jobs as a page.” Back in the sixties, my mom was a teenager in the little desert town of Lancaster, California. I pictured my mom in her A-line dresses, pushing a library cart around to re-shelve books in the evenings. She said she got very distracted reading the titles of the books as she was alphabetizing them. Sounds like someone else I know, who also gets distracted reading the backs of interesting books that customers bring up to the register.

For as long as I can remember my mom read to us, me and my younger brother. She would read out loud to us on long car trips, books like Hatchet and The Fairy Rebel, complete with all the voices. Even though I was impatient because I could read faster on my own, I loved hearing a story unfold in her voice. We always had books in the house, either stacks from the library or gently worn paperbacks from the used bookstore or books ordered from the Scholastic Book Club. Mom put clear Contact paper on my paperbacks, the stuff that you use to line shelves, to make them last longer since I took them everywhere and read them to pieces.

She told me that at some point she couldn’t keep up with concurrently reading everything I was reading and had to just let it go. For birthdays and Christmas she would buy me the most recent (hardback!) books in whatever fantasy series I was obsessed with, lurid covers and all. When she needed recommendations for something new for me, she would go to Island Books and get advice from Cindy. I vividly remember her sending me Dorothy Dunnett’s Game of Kings my first year in college, thus kicking off my love for Lymond. When she chooses for herself, my mom often gravitates towards mysteries, especially ones with over-the-top titles. The winner so far is Pennies on a Dead Man’s Eyes. Nothing else about it but the title has been retained, but it still gives us a laugh. She read all the Sue Grafton mysteries, and she and my dad pass the Jack Reacher books by Lee Child between them. 

But she doesn’t just stick to one genre. She’s adventurous and wide-ranging in her reading. When she got into poetry, I remember collections of Neruda and Mary Oliver and Billy Collins around the house. On trips, she’ll always go to indie bookstores and ask the booksellers to recommend a local author or select something off the staff picks shelf. She reads the Seattle Reads Book every year. She’s willing to give nearly anything that sounds interesting to her a try. It inspires me to be more adventurous myself and venture outside my comfort genres.

Now, as a bookseller, I’m the one enabling my mom. I’ll bring her titles I think she’ll be interested in, or ones she’s asked me about. I pass on the books I’ve particularly loved, making sure her TBR is just as big as mine. Right now she’s catching up with the middle of Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series (I suspect she’s already read these, but she’ll happily read them again), and she just finished The Woman in the Room by L. Jane Hastings, a memoir of a female architect in Seattle that was written up in the Seattle Times. She’s got Percival Everett’s Erasure started, and several Rachel Linden books. She picked up Amy Tan's The Backyard Bird Chronicles. Her stack of started and unfinished-as-of-yet books is almost as tall as mine. I’m not sure if I can get away with giving her another book for Mother’s Day (unless there’s one she asks for). I feel lucky that I get to share this passion for books with my mom, and grateful for all the many ways she’s encouraged my love of reading throughout my life.

If you’re looking for a gift for Mother’s Day (coming up on May 12th), stop by Island Books to peruse our stacks of books, curated gift items and wide range of cards. And ask your mom — or the mother figures in your life — what they’ve been reading lately. The answer might surprise you!

— Lori