I was an avid reader as a child. The Enoch Pratt Library bookmobile came every other week to my elementary school,
But I wasn’t lacking for books at home either. I spent my $1 weekly allowance on either film for my camera or books. I had a 50-book collection of The Bobsey Twins along with other popular books at the time: Albert Payson Terhune’s dog books, Walter Farley’s horse books, and various mysters— Nancy Drew, Dana Girls, Trixie Beldon.
I could also go downstairs to our basement and find books such as the American Kennel Association’s thick book of pictures of all the approved dog breeds. I could look up anything in the complete set of The Book of Knowedge.
I remember finding a thick green book. Most books were hardbacks then and had no book jacket with a synopsis and other information. The title on this green book was Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I picked it up and read it, losing myself in a time and place strange to me.
This was in the 1950’s. We didn’t have slavery any more. My grandmother did, however, have a “colored” maid named Martha. I never did know her last name. Although my sisters and I were always taught to call adults Mr., Miss or Mrs. (this was before Ms.), we only knew my grandmother’s maid as Martha. Funny thing was that, at the time, I didn’t question why we were allowed to call an adult by her first name.
I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, grew to love the slave characters in the book and cried at the sad parts. I re-read the book one or two times more. I felt close to the characters. They were like family. I was happy when they were happy and suffered with them through their miseries.
I once heard a speaker from the National Endowment for the Arts talk about how lack of reading, fiction in particular, was affecting involvement in the arts, including the performing arts. We were becoming a nation without imagination and curiosity, a people who didn’t find pleasure in fantasy and pretend, a community interested in facts more than play.
I think there’s another effect, too. Waning empathy. I remember how I climbed inside the heads and hearts of the characters in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel. I felt for them. I imagined their feelings. I learned to empathize.
Stowe's influential novel about slavery, Uncle Tom's Cabin, or Life Among the Lowly, was first published in book form March 20, 1852, by J.P. Jewett of
10,000 copies were sold in the first week, 300,000 within the first year. The many different editions published in