Magic, eh? The first thing I thought about when Pamela asked me to go a guest blog was how much I like magic and magic shows. Sleight-of-hand fascinates me. Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants is one of my all-time favorite HBO specials. (You can see a bit of it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_TXnBDHWr0.) I love books with magicians in them, and in fact I recently wrote a short post for my own blog on Bill S. Ballinger’s The Tooth and the Nail. But when it comes right down to it, the things that are really magic to me are books.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love books. My mother used to tell me that when I was a couple of years old and my father came home from work, I’d meet him at the door with my Mother Goose book in my hand and say, “‘Ead Mama Goose.” I still have that much-loved book, or what’s left of it. It had a tough life, and it’s wonder it survived.
While we didn’t have many books at home when I was a kid, we took advantage of the school library and the public library. One of my earliest memories of my mother is of her holding me up so I could look at the shelves and pick out a book at the public library. Later on, when I started riding a bike, I spent many a summer afternoon in the library’s reading room, curled up with a book in one of the two big red leather chairs. The elementary school library is where I found a copy of Robert A. Heinlein’s Rocketship Galileo, one of the books that started me on an SF reading binge that never really ended.
When I got to high school and had a job, I could afford to buy books, and I bought them by the bundle. Those were the days when paperbacks were 25 and 35 cents, and there was no sales tax. So for around a dollar, I could get three or four books. I had quite an accumulation by the time I was ready to leave for college, and that’s when my mother gave me the bad news. I had to get rid of the books. She wanted to fix up the room I shared with my brother, she said, and if I didn’t get rid of the books and magazines, she would.
My mother didn’t kid around about stuff like that. I knew she meant it. I could never in a million years have thrown the books away, but I knew she could. And would. So I called a friend whose parents were more understanding. I still remember the sight of him driving away in the family station wagon, the back of it loaded down with my books.
Many years later, that kid became the president of a community college. Years after that, I went to work at the same college as chair of the English department. Now and then I’d get a call from the president, who’d say something like, “Want to drop by my office and visit some of your old Ace Double Books?” It was nice to see them again, but I’d already replaced them with other copies, and as I write this, I’m sitting in a room surrounded by thousands of paperbacks, most of them nearly as old as I am (and that’s old, folks).
Sometimes I feel like Scrooge McDuck in his money vault. I like to dive into the books and swim through them like a porpoise. I like to throw them up in the air and let them hit me on the head. Okay, not really. But I like to look at them, hold them in my hands, open them and read them and feel the magic that’s always there. And always will be.