Kelly Robson is a Canadian short fiction writer. She was awarded the 2018 Nebula Award for Best Novelette and both the 2019 and 2016 Aurora Awards for best Short Story. She has also been a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Theodore Sturgeon, Locus, Astounding, Aurora, and Sunburst awards.
Books Are Not Toys
Recently, I sent a bunch of books to the daughter of a friend-of-a-friend. Though I’d never met the kid, I’d heard stories about her passionate, precocious attachment to books. To say I found that relatable would be an understatement.
I’ve loved books my whole life. When I was a kid, most books came to me by chance, and getting enough of them was always an issue because reading was everything to me, in a way nobody seemed to understand.
When I air-dropped the reading survival pack on the book-crazy kid, her dad said, “She’s going to get spoiled.” My brain exploded. I finally understood, nearly fifty years later, why my parents were so reluctant to keep me in books.
What my parents don’t understand is that if you have eight books, and you read two of them a day, after a couple of months you basically have no books.
It turns out that my parents thought books were the same as toys: If you have some, you don’t need more. But books are emphatically not toys. Books are air and water, essential for life. Access to books is a survival issue to a book-based lifeform. I starved for them, and I’m still bitter about it.
We lived in a small town with no bookstores. The town library was in the high school, and it was full of scary older kids. Mom took me there once or twice when I was seven, but she wouldn’t let me take out chapter books because she thought they were too old for me. When my parents divorced, my mother moved to Edmonton and worked at a mall. I spent a lot of time wandering around there alone, and was thrilled to discover the library in the mall basement, but that’s a saga about the entire Black Stallion series which ended with me never going in there again, despite a kind librarian who waived a year of late fees.
So, I became not just a reader, but a re-reader, consuming books forty or a hundred times over — even the ones I didn’t particularly like. When I was a little older, and had some money of my own to spend, I discovered the Science Fiction and Fantasy section of the mall bookstore and my life got much, much better.
Today, I have all the books I could ever want. I never deny myself a book I want, but even so, I’m still a re-reader.
And I think that perhaps that skill has led me to where I am now. If I’d had all the books I wanted, I would have still loved and appreciated them, but forming the re-reading habit allowed me to steep my brain in the writing rhythms of my favorite writers. Re-reading gives me gives me skills and insights I probably wouldn’t have learned otherwise.
So, am I thankful for my bookless childhood? Definitely not! So let’s spread the word, books are not toys. Some kids need books, and lots of them.
Kelly Robson visits Brockton Writers Series via ephemera series on Wednesday, November 10, 2021 starting at 6:30pm alongside Mary Lou Dickinson, Lisa Richter, and Jael Richardson. Our guest speaker Deborah Dundas will take us through, “Inside the Pages: A Book Editor Demystifies the News and Reviews Process.”
Special note: As we adapt to current social distancing regulations, we’re happy to announce our event will be hosted by the wonderful ephemera series! They have already done their show online multiple times, so we are thrilled to benefit from their technical expertise, while also increasing collaboration within the literary community and growing connections between organizers, authors, and audience. You can attend the event by watching on the ephemera series YouTube channel. Please log in at 6:30.