I grew up in a ranch house with a basement in Joliet - 2108 Belmont Avenue, to be exact.
The house, like many ranch-style homes, had a kitchen and living room on one side and a hallway that led to the bedrooms.
When you reached the end of the hallway, the bathroom was on the left and the spare bedroom was on the right. Next to the bathroom was the room my sister and I shared. And next to the spare bedroom was my parents' bedroom.
In between those bedrooms was a freestanding bookcase. On the bookcase were books my mother had read and shelved, along with books from her childhood.
This included a lot of the books produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, including original (1904) copies of various titles in the The Bobbsey Twins, Camp Fire Girls (written when drivers had to wear goggles to protect their eyes), Honey Bunch: Just a Little Girl (1923), very old copies (with yellowed crumbling pages) of Little Women and An Old-Fashioned Girl.
It also included some of my father's books, including The Harvard Classics, Raggedy Ann Stories by Johnny Gruelle (1918), one of his school books (Elson-Gray Basic Readers Book Four) and Pictures Every Child Should Know).
Having really bad asthma, I stayed inside quite a bit. I could listen to music, if my mother stacked records on the stereo. I could watch TV (often whatever she was watching, which was game shows) or I could read.
I brought home stacks of books from the library each week. I read and re-read many of my own books (Who can't resist flipping back to the favorite parts?). I ordered boxes full of Scholastic books at school.
And when I ran out of books to read, I headed for the shelf in the hall.
Books from yesteryear don't come with slick back covey copy and blurbs from celebrities. The back cover is blank, the front cover has a title and author credits, and the book may have a frontispiece to give the reader a clue of the story.
Many also had chapter titles, which also hinted at the theme of those chapters.
Mostly, though, readers became introduced to the story by picking up the book, paging through it, reading a bit here or there, and then finally deciding to either sit down (or sprawl across the couch or bed, my favorite reading positions), and start reading from the beginning or placing the book back on the shelf.
This is my approach to marketing my own books, which some say is too soft.
But in the days of "in-your-face" marketing, I really like the "discoverability" of new books. Nothing beats the fun, for me, of the process I just described, the reason why used book stores are so much fun (found on gem at a Good Will store in North Carolina. Just saying).
Thanks to the internet, all six of my children now own a copy of Elson-Gray Basic Readers Book Four. Rebekah has a reprint of Raggedy Ann - from Cracker Barrel.
The stories in Elson-Gray are so engaging, I incorporated the book into my homeschooling curriculum.
Not only did the kids expand their reading styles by reading an actual reader from a time period that is no more (and it's not easy reading), they read a piece of their personal history, since their grandfather also learned to improve his reading from the exact same book.
Now I had never picked up Pictures Every Child Should Know until I was homeschooling and my oldest son was seven. Turns out this book, published in 1908, had belonged to my paternal grandmother. She died at the age of fifty-five from uterine cancer (she did not make the five-year mark).
When I was younger, the title had led me to believe the book would be dry and boring. It was full of glossy black and white plates of famous artwork accompanied by biographies.
But I wanted my kids to have a broad liberal arts education, so I brought the book home and began reading it to Christopher, one chapter at a time.
As I did, I made two delightful discoveries.
One, I was the first to open the book, as many of the pages were still fused together, a flaw in the printing process.
Two, the book was full of surprisingly wry prose that Christopher and I enjoyed.
For instance, in the second chapter (about Michael Angelo), a paragraph describes how one prince had no use for the artist's genius but, according to rumor, the prince may have commissioned him to build a snowman.
The book says, "It was doubtless a very beautiful snow-man, but although it was Angelo's, it melted in the night, even as if it had been Johnny or Tommy's snow-man, and left no trace behind."
I remember reading this aloud to Christopher and pausing, as he glanced up from the book at the same time and at each other, stunned to find phrasing like this in a textbook.
Another chapter, about Albrecht Durer, said, "If Durer's father and mother had eighteen children, Albrecht and Agnes struck a balance, for they had none."
And in the same paragraph: "It is said that he started for Italy in 1505 and that he went the whole of the way, over the Alps, through forests and streams, on horseback. Who knows but it was during that very journey, while traveling alone, often finding himself in lonely way and full of the speculative thoughts that were characteristic of him, that he did not first think of his subject, "Knight, Death, and the Devil," which helped him make his fame."
By the way, this copy of Elson-Gray is not my father's. My sister has this copy.
The copy I own has a great "discoverability" (and, frankly, quite unbelievable) story behind it.
But that's another story for another time.