When my parents asked my brothers and me whether we wanted a puppy or a new baby, I chose the baby. Janet came along, and so did the puppy. Everyone was happy.
I immediately tried to read to my new sister. I was not quite four, but I had memorized some of the poems in A Child’s Garden of Verse. I pretended to read it, holding the book to show her the mysterious hieroglyphics splashed across the pages. That is my earliest memory of a book.
Our father was the one who opened me to poetry. After dinner, while still at the table, he’d pull out his dog-eared copy of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner or The Canterbury Tales and read aloud. I was mesmerized by the sound and rhythm as, one by one, Philip Larkin, Emily Dickinson, and Elizabeth Bishop were all brought to life by his voice. From time to time, I’d glance at Janet, sitting on Mother’s lap at the other end of the table, to see if she was paying attention. She must have been, since she soon began to read Dr. Suess. All of it. Later, she read the Black Beauty series while I lived with Louisa May Alcott’s March family.
Our tastes, as they were developing, dovetailed and diverged. I remember summer days much like this one, each of us pulling out a book from our beach bags and reading while other children splashed in the community pool, their shrieks and the drone of insects background music to the worlds that books evoked. Alice in Wonderland. Catch 22. Siddhartha. The Magic Mountain.
How and when did we go from being readers swapping books to collaborators on our own book projects? It was much later. Janet had developed into a serious fine artist and I had published quite a few poems in the lit ’zines. We had always shown our work to one another for reaction and comment and we saw that we were exploring many of the same themes. Our sensibilities and interests overlapped and merged in much the same way as the sound of siblings who sing. The notion struck us--if we combined our arts, would it make for a richer utterance?
You must be the judge of that. As for us, the making our library is its primary pleasure.