For this special Valentine's Day series, we asked our readers to tell us about the first book that stole their heart. Here are some of our favorite stories. They range from joyful to wistful, hilarious to poignant — but each demonstrates the ineffable experience of falling in love with a book, an author, or a fictional character.
The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm
It was my birthday in August 1949 in Germany. My mother and her sisters with all their children (all men at the frontline) were traveling from invaded East Germany to the west. Even though the war had ended in 1945, we were still poor and without any support. I don't know where she got it from and how, but my mother gave me my first book: The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. I carried this book everywhere and read it again and again. I was only seven years old but my reading improved with every page — I could not stop. After that I always had a book in my hand.
My second love started in the Realschule in our German lesson. We were introduced to Anne Frank's Diary and our teacher, a nun, took us to the movie theater to see the film. I can still feel my horror and my sadness. That started my eagerness to read everything about my country's terrible history and the history of Europe at that time.
– Helga W.
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Baldy of Nome by Esther Birdsall Darling
I grew up on a farm in Wheeler County in Central Oregon. Being outdoors with my dad and the livestock was what I really loved. Although I enjoyed school, reading for pleasure was just not on my radar. Then, the summer I was 10 years old, I contracted rheumatic fever and had to stay in bed 24/7 for more than six weeks. Summer was a busy time for both of my parents, so I was pretty much left alone for much of the day. A neighbor brought me a copy of Baldy of Nome by Esther Birdsall Darling, a thrilling tale of sled dogs in the Yukon gold rush. I read that book and was totally hooked; I wanted more!
There was no public library in Wheeler County, nor is there now. At that time, it was possible to write to the Oregon State Library in Salem and order books. I wrote a letter asking for "more books like Baldy of Nome," and over the course of the summer, some thoughtful, resourceful librarian sent me dozens of books, a few at a time, that were similar but gradually increased in difficulty and sophistication. Whoever he or she was, that librarian turned me on to reading. I became a voracious reader who majored in English in college, got a master's degree in literature, and taught English to thousands of high school students over a 37-year teaching career.
Today, in retirement, I belong to two book clubs that meet each month to discuss a wide variety of books, both fiction and nonfiction. I also volunteer at the local library and am happy to have a patron of any age ask, "What would you recommend for me?" I'm afraid I'm not as adept at answering that question as that long-ago librarian at the state library, but it's pure pleasure to hear later that someone enjoyed the book or books I recommended and ask for more — just as I did after reading Baldy of Nome.
– Prudy Z.
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Bambi by Felix Salten
The book that made me fall in love with reading was not a book I read myself. After the death of my father when I was barely six, and after a move to a new city, my mother decided to try a new tradition of gathering all three of her children together in the evening and reading to them. I'm sure it was a way to assuage her own grief while spending some quality time with three bewildered young children. The first book she chose to read was Bambi by Felix Salten.
I remember being snuggled into my pajamas, with twilight closing in, listening to the sometimes funny, sometimes harrowing story of the young fawn read in my beloved mother's calm and reassuring voice. It was magical and I was transported. I remember feeling a real sense of loss when the book ended. Wanting to recreate that feeling of finding other worlds made me pick up a book for myself, and I have never stopped reading.
– Cathy K.
More First Loves on Powell's Blog: Last of the Breed | Even Cowgirls Get the Blues | A Tree Grows in Brooklyn | Jane Eyre | A Little Princess | The Hobbit | Finn Family Moomintroll | Mary Poppins | In Watermelon Sugar | Far from the Madding Crowd | The Pink Motel | From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler | The Only Alien on the Planet | Charlotte Sometimes | The Singing Tree
Books mentioned in this post