of ink and paper.

No matter how much I persisted, I couldn't convince an enchanting friend

of mine to see the latest big-screen attraction, Great Expectations.

Not even a matinee. Oh no!

What was she thinking? Who wouldn't want to watch Anne Bancroft twirl

and rant like the senile Miss Havisham? Who cared what Siskel and the other

guy said?

"It can't be better than the book," she told me.

Of course! Charlie Dickens had won her heart, and no water fountain was

going to convince her otherwise. Forget Gwyneth's bare spine, my friend

would rather see that of a tattered paperback on her nightstand.

The book is almost always the best way to go. Words have a magic which

can't be captured in any other form. Even Ethan Hawke came to this realization

once and penned The Hottest State, which was at least as good as

Before Sunrise. Yes!

I've been a rabid book fairy ever since I did Picture Pages with Bill

Cosby. Some of my fondest memories are sitting in a lawn chair reading with

my dad, the smell of his pipe tobacco spiraling down to my velcro shoes.

My mom used to read to me until I could recite entire books by memory.

One of my favorites was Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, about this

donkey who one day turned into a rock. It may sound like a random plot,

but I could work the lines of that book into any conversation.

When I was in third grade, there was a yearlong contest to see who read

the most. When each student read 10 books, Miss Casey, my teacher, put their

name on a giant banana, which was then taped to a paper tree on the wall.

Since that was the year I simultaneously acquired glasses and braces,

I had a ton of time for reading. Some of the wisest people in the world

were probably ostracized at an early age.

By the end of the year, Whitney bananas covered the wall. I won the book

contest! The prize was -- and I should have seen this coming -- a book.

Unfortunately, it was a book I already had, but I grinned and thanked Miss

Casey anyway.

She surprised the rest of the class with presents too, even though their

bananas hardly compared to mine. Only everyone else didn't get books, they

got ... SLINKYS!

I told my parents I was never going to read again.

But soon the Slinky envy wore off, and I returned to the pages. Besides,

our house didn't even have a staircase.

Books took me places -- literally. I read The Babysitter's Club series

after I'd gotten my neighbors' kids to sleep. Author Gary Paulsen wrote

about this boy who lived alone in the wilderness. I read his books while

perched atop a monolithic maple tree in our backyard.

I always felt connected to Alice, the girl from Wonderland and The Looking

Glass, because she had my middle name. She inspired me to dream and explore!

(I guess it's a good thing I didn't grow up watching The Brady Bunch,

or else I'd be obsessing over butchers and clean floors.)

Books are more comforting than cheesecake. Every time my family went

to the dentist, we followed the painful excursion with a trip to the bookstore.

Sometimes words are like Novocain for the soul.

This town may be short on 7-11s, but there are a ton of bookstores. Used

bookstores are magnificent places, with hand-me-downs that never go out

of style. Tiny bookstores also harbor wild discoveries, and the owners usually

know what they're talking about.

The Wal-Mart-ness of big bookstores may scare a few people, but I find

them enchanting. I like to get lost in the aisles and sandwiched between

Tom Wolfe and Virginia Woolf. I recently traveled to New York City and found

a huge Barnes & Noble, with a spiral staircase in the middle (oh, if only

I'd had a Slinky ...). I was there for two hours.

There is a certain corner in Hodges Library where I like to read and

write in peace. I spent a lot of time there last summer, where I read Natalie

Goldberg's Long Quiet Highway and Gloria Steinem's Outrageous

Acts and Everyday Rebellions
in one sitting. What marvelous women!

I also recommend reading in the bathtub, even though you'll have to keep

the splashing to a minimum. Read The Fountainhead to your rubber

duck! Enlighten your conditioner with Kerouac! If these items could speak,

they'd thank you.

I have been more inspired by books than any episode of My So-Called

Life
(except maybe for the one where Angela gives her shoes to Juliana

Hatfield).

SARK's A Creative Companion taught me the joy of naps. Charles

Kuralt's America encouraged me to travel to New Orleans. Charles

Bukowski's Mockingbird, Wish Me Luck made me want to write poetry

on a cocktail napkin.

My roommate rediscovered books after taking an intense reading class

last semester. The next thing I knew, she was assembling a gigantic mahogany

bookshelf in our living room. Now we eat dinner with Toni Morrison and Truman

Capote! Mmmm.

Stop using Catcher in the Rye for a beer coaster and start reading!

The wisdom you'll discover is priceless. Just a few pages of Holden Caulfield

could transform your life.

Speaking of transformations, I once knew this donkey who turned himself

into a rock ...

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