December 15, 2010
Hand Me Down Books
My favorite books have not always been my own. My first memory of books are by Richard Scarry, which my parents used to read to me. When I was old enough to read myself, my grandmother bought me English fairy tales.
But I was most fascinated with French books since a very young age. They weren't easy to find in Dubai, and so we had very few at home. I devoured the classic Martine collection at one of my cousin's house. I still remember the joys of visiting her! Another cousin had an important collection of MiniRose, Bibliotheque Rose and Bibliotheque Verte. I would borrow them when I was on vacation in Lebanon, growing up with each level, volume after volume. Most of my Lebanese vacations were about catching up with my reading.
In Dubai, when we commuted with our dear friends, the Wongs, I used to wish that my ride from their home to mine would be delayed, so I could run to their Tintin collection and read from where I had left off last. My school luckily had a small collection of books in their makeshift library and I read every recommended book by my teacher: essentially the French classics and Pearl Buck in translation.
Eventually, we spent more time in France and Switzerland and I was then able to build my own collection of French books. My children are more fortunate than I ever was. At an early age, they have the Martine collection, a few Caroline, an extensive collection of Franklin and many from the Ecole des Loisirs and especially Le Pere Castor, the classics from the 1950s.
How can we read these books, re-read them, one sibling after the other, without sharing them with our New York cousins who are also growing up as francophone? They don't have as much access to as many French books as their cousins do. Besides, the hand me down books that we gift them are offered with love because they are shared. Sometimes when my kids realize that their books are missing they rejoice at the fact that their cousins are reading them. My kids themselves have received Dr. Seuss books from my own cousins and have loved them, despite the wear and tear.
Hand me down books are precious gifts. In a similar way, when I lend a book to a friend, I do not ask them to return it to me, as I hope it will continue living in the hands of many, rather than sitting lifeless and dusty on a shelf, untouched.