Remember when reading a certain book was considered racy and as naughty as plucking an apple off of The Tree? Like my youthful mother-in-law hiding "Gone With The Wind" for clandestine reading in the outhouse, my own literary education was broadened with the discovery of the risque novel.
Bible belt matrons, stoically staring from behind the counter, were always on guard at the public library making it nearly impossible to check out these mouthwatering missives of pure corruption under their birddog eyes. So, the rare paperback copies we could get our hands on were being passed around my junior high to those daring souls who braved corporal punishment, a call to the parents, detention, even suspension. Someone came up with the brilliant idea of wrapping our contraband in brown paper bag book covers. Subterfuge inspired, no doubt, from Fleming himself. Ah ha! Such a creative solution! Oh, yeah. We might as well have put a flashing blue Kmart Special light under our arms when walking down the hall. We were losing our precious tomes faster than you could say Harold Robbins. A few really devious minds tried wrapping innocent paperbacks just to throw the Book Police off the scent, but in due time, all brown paper coverings were banned - the game no longer afoot.
My mother was ( and still is) too "busy" to read much. When she received her official sheepskin and her teaching certificate, she decided that she didn't have to read books anymore. An outdoorsy person, she never understood my own passion for reading. Dad, however, could have been a real bookworm if he hadn't been so busy working three jobs. He did get in the occasional novel a few times a year and kept most of his paperbacks on the floor of his closet stacked between his hunting boots and his moccasin houseshoes. Favoring mostly westerns, and detective novels, his choices were not your typical fare for teenaged girls. As Freudian as it may sound, I still associate the masculine smell of cherry pipe tobacco, the leather of worn shoes and Brut cologne with their genre. Thanks to Dad's library, my adventure into "adult" reading started with a filched Perry Mason thriller called "The Case of the Glamorous Ghost". I remember the cover: black and dark blue swirls of midnight and a rising moon silhouetting a nearly nude female ethereal being, bare gossamer threads trailing strategically across her body. And so it began, my leap into higher learning leaving Nancy ,Trixie, and Victoria gathering dust on their spines.
As my adolescent sexuality was wrecking havoc with my skin and emotions, I dove tongue-first into juicy titles like "The Betsy", "Portnoy's Complaint", "Catch-22", "Lady Chatterly's Lover", "Delta of Venus", and "On The Road". My mom was clueless as to my new passionate literary growth. Her non-reader status was quite fortunate for me in that regard. (I did go to some effort to hide Xaviera Hollander's biography, though. Slipped it between the mattress and box springs of my bed. Yeah, like no mom ever checks there.) Once when coming home late one night from his second job, my dad noticed my bedroom light on and came in to have a quick goodnight hug. I was deep into the love life of Angelo Perino and had no time to attempt the mattress sandwich trick. Dad tried not to be overly nosy about my book, but he nonchalantly picked it up from my hands, noticed the title, and with his trademark hyper-arched left eyebrow, simply asked me if I understood it. Mutely, I just nodded my head, keeping my expression serious and mustering as much grown-up demeanor possible. He chuckled a little, patted my knee and said, "Well, put it back in my closet when you are finished." After that, we began discussing some of our shared reading, more often by authors such as Boris Pasternak, Tennesse Williams or Hemingway. During those teenaged years when daughters and dads do that awkward dance, we found common ground for bonding. It embarrasses me now, but I recall being amazed that my dad possessed such intellectual depth and knowledge; his interpretations of Pasternak were wonderfully unique and helped me grasp the Russian revolution and the human tragedy of war so much better than any staid and stilted history teacher could.
Dad has been gone for almost five years, and I wished that I had offered to read aloud to him more during those years of books on tape because his eyesight had deteriorated too much even for bold print books. He would have loved the "DaVinci Code", and the joy of taunting me with the secret knowledge of something I surely missed in chapter two or twelve. I never got caught in junior high with a forbidden book, but somehow I know my dad would have laughed heartily at such a caper and then reminded me to just put it back in the closet when I was finished reading.