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Bookish Beginnings

There’s a snapshot I love, taken of me on a vacation in the Virgin Islands when I was about two and a half. The vacation was memorable for a couple of reasons: It was my introduction to the fact that redheads and tropical sun are a bad combo, and it was my first experience with “reading.”

My favorite book at the time was a toddler’s version of Peter Pan, and one afternoon my mother found me “reading” it to Beth and Rachel, the two sisters in the sandy snapshot. She was so proud. Her brilliant, stunning daughter, reading months before even her third birthday! It took quite a while for everyone to realize that in fact I had memorized the book, and was merely reciting it, complete with page-turns. According to my mother, I learned to write well before I learned to read, and would regularly write stories and demand that she read them to me.

And read she would, because if anything bonded me to my mother, it was our shared passion for the written word. A year before she died, she sent me a three-page letter, all about how thrilled she was with one single word-choice in a book we had published. That’s three pages on the virtues of “pupate.”

My mom was the best editor I have ever known, and the books she edited – primarily for Yale University Press, where she spent the bulk of her career – won more awards than I’ve had hot dinners. But her truest professional passion, I think, was for the class she taught, for more than three decades, at the Denver Publishing Institute. After her death, it gave me great comfort to consider that hundreds of her students have gone into publishing, and that her influence will still be felt so long as one book that one of them edited is still being read.

I miss her like I’d miss a missing limb. And in her honor – and for all our moms – we’d like to offer a nifty 20% discount on Peter Dickinson’s extraordinary The Old English Peep Show, home of “pupate” and many other wonderful linguistic choices.

Did your mom help shape your reading life?

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