I tell my children that I love them every day. Loudly, proudly, and with soft whispers as they drift off to sleep. I show my children that I love them through service. I wash their stacks of bottles and clothes, prepare healthy meals that they sometimes (okay, often) refuse to eat, and change their diapers a million times a day. But my favorite way to show my kids that I love them is through books. It’s something I learned from my mother.
My older sister Gina taught me to read, but my mom taught me to love reading. A voracious reader herself, my mom always made sure that we had access to books and stories. I loved sitting in my parents’ waterbed (yes, it was the ’90s) while my mom read picture book after picture book to me. There was no one who could make those stories come alive quite like my mom.
Every Saturday, rain or shine, we went to the library. Those weekly visits were special to me for several reasons. I reveled in the independence of browsing the children’s section alone. I enjoyed picking out new books to read that we didn’t have at home. But most of all, I loved seeing my mom’s reaction to my selections.
I have always read across genres and topics—but that was especially true as a child. As we’d check out, my mom and the librarians were always eager to find out what I was reading that week. My mom is a nearly exclusive romance reader. Still, she never made me feel weird for choosing books on vampire bats, Ancient Egypt, the Titanic, Judy Moody, and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, all in the same week. She encouraged me and told me my choices were interesting and exciting, so I felt interesting and exciting. One visit, I overheard her tell a librarian that I was a “renaissance reader.” The next week, I checked out books on the Renaissance. I wasn’t quite sure what that term meant but it sounded clever. My mom had said it with love so it was something that I wanted to be.
I enjoyed reading nonfiction because I enjoyed learning. But when my mom bought my first fantasy novel, she changed my life. She put witches and wizards into my hands and heart and for the first time, I fully lost myself in a book. That initial recommendation led to Narnia, Hobbiton, Oz, and tesseracts. It led me to not just enjoying books but to devouring stories and writing my own.
And she didn’t just help me find books; she supported my fandoms and obsessions, even when she didn’t love the books the way that I did. My mom brought me to midnight release parties at Borders (RIP Borders) and stood with me for hours, listening gamely while I spouted theory after theory about what my direction my beloved books might take next. She brought me back to the store the next day, too, so I could compete in trivia contests. Spoiler alert: I won.
When it came to my favorite authors and stories, my mom also paid for my copies of each new release, even as I got older. As a teenager, I was just grateful to not have to shell out $30. As an adult, I realize that she was giving me more than just a book. She was giving me my favorite books. She understood the power of that.
And she still does. Back when the new Jodi Picoult books were released in the spring, I was studying abroad and couldn’t get a copy of House Rules. My mom bought it the day it was released and mailed that book to England, just so I wouldn’t have to wait. When I was desperate to read a niche mystery novel but couldn’t find a copy at my local bookstore, my parents drove to multiple stores until they found it for me. It was in the mail the next day. And when I recently lamented to my mom that I thought I’d lost my well-loved autographed copy of Frindle by Andrew Clements, my parents tore apart their basement until they found it in storage.
Now that I’m an adult, my mom and I bond over books, even though we often read different genres. When I went to my first Jodi Picoult book signing, my mom watched in quiet support as I uncharacteristically lost the ability to speak when it was my turn to meet Jodi. And when my mom went to her first Nora Roberts signing, I laughed out loud as she couldn’t stop talking to Nora and was very nearly escorted away by security. We clearly responded in different ways to meeting our idols.
I want to pay back my mom for helping me grow from a reader to a Reader. I follow her favorite author, Nora Roberts, on social media, and try to preorder as many of her books as possible for my mom. If there’s an ARC giveaway for a new book, I’ve probably entered it. I don’t want to just give her books—I want to give her her favorite books. I know how special that is.
When I think about how much books, and my mom, have given me, I hope to be able to help cultivate that same sense of love for my children. I’m always on the lookout for new books to inspire them. When they demand I read the same book ten times in a row, I do, just like my mom did for me. Minus the water bed.
I look forward to returning to weekly library visits when the pandemic is truly under control. I’m eager to see which favorite books they fall back on and which new stories they pull off the shelves. I hope that I’ll always make children feel safe and loved, especially through books. Just like my mom did for me.
Interested in my family’s favorite authors? Check out The Best Jodi Picoult Books: 3 Reading Pathways and The Best Nora Roberts Books: 7 Books to Get You Started.