If your house was on fire and you could save only one book, which would it be?
Mine is a glossy, oversized hardback with a cover picture of a tiny baby with a brush of dark hair. The hairy mite is me, and the book is filled with photographs of my family. My mother painstakingly scanned, annotated and designed them into a snazzy layout on one of those self-publish websites you get now. She sent it from England for my 30th birthday.
I had seen only one or two of the pictures before. They weren’t just the few framed ones on the walls at home or in the albums we had downstairs. These were from the boxed heights of the attic, where ancient schoolbooks sat by piles of stuffed animals, dusted with remnants of the disintegrated black bin bags they were once packed in.
Most of the pictures were of my little brother, Mum and Dad, now-distant cousins, uncles and aunts, great uncles and dead grandparents, friends of my parents and friends of mine. Many friends have their own children of a similar age, now.
Even though it wasn’t actually that long ago, looking at the activities and fashions is like looking through a window into a bygone era. Or at the Instagram account of a hipster at a picnic.
Two pictures struck me in particular as they pinged the heart-strings. One is of me in a baby-gro which is tied in knots at the hands and feet. Not a memory of harsh parenting, but a fond reminder of how a thrifty young mum, when presented with a much smaller than average child, resolved to put her in the hand-me-down clothes of normal-sized cousins regardless. A large knot at every foot and hand simply covers off the excess! Why they didn’t just tie each arm to a leg and use me as a backpack, I’ll never know.
The second picture is taken when we are on a walk somewhere leafy-looking. Me and Mum are both inexplicably dressed for athletics. My brother is hanging around, slung across my mother’s front in a baby-carrier. In my hands is a slim book, its pages ready to be turned by Mum as she reads aloud.
Her own family were notorious readers. There are apocryphal tales of introverted dinnertimes with all their noses in books and my father wondering whether there actually was any dinner (an apple isn’t a meal, you know). So, it’s hardly surprising that she would pass her love of reading on to me.
If you love reading, you likely have someone to thank for it. I know I do.
Thanks for the gift, Mum.
What’s your most precious book? Please comment below!
Meg Williams is a lover of reading and an advocate of the slow reading movement. She runs a series of Slow Reading Clubs – weekly hour-long socials for quiet reading (and cocktails).