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  • Summer Sundays, my father, who had no use for clerics, bankers and lawyers--in that order--kept his own ritual, made his own offering: blueberry pancakes and a dollar bill. One for each of us. Crisp as a starched sheet.

    After breakfast we’d pile into the car and head to the temple: a ramshackle Maine farm, a tumble of buildings tacked onto one another—house to ell to ell to barn to barn—all filled from floor to ceiling with books watched over by a silent old man who smelled of sawdust. A book farm. A tower of books A temple of books. Ten books a buck.

    My father would breathe in the dusty air, smile around at the scene, nod at the silent old man, ask us if we had our dollars, and head off into the stacks where he’d spend the next two hours paging through obscure historical texts. He was on the search for guidance, revelation, deep understanding about the events that shaped human history. It was not okay to disturb him in his prayers.

    My oldest brother found his way to Russian writers and eccentric philosophers, books so heavy he’d often have to ask the old man for a box to cart them around in. My middle brother selected nonfiction only, often standing side by side with my father, paging through history and politics, brow furrowed, concentration absolute, young acolyte.

    I would thread my way through stacks and rooms and buildings until I came to the final one, the one devoted to classic literature, a place I shared only with Dickens and Mann, Hardy and Lawrence, Austen and Joyce, the Brontes and Eliot, and dust motes swirling on rays of sunshine. How to choose? Go through the alphabet? Close my eyes and point? Fall for book covers? After letting myself be drawn this way and that through the books by look and feel and smell, I’d choose my volumes based on the inscriptions I’d find in the inside covers: To Geraldine on her fifteenth birthday from Verna. May Pemberley fill your dreams as it does mine. Stories around stories.

    Just before my father would ring the bell to call us all back, I’d head for a small section of herbals rich with secrets of mixing healing and magical elixirs and harvesting wild foods, but also—and this was what really interested me-- the faded scrawlings of other readers in the margins. Comments on the recipes. Additions, corrections, invocations. Story.

    Our dollars released into the collection box, we’d head home, each of us quiet, leafing through our books, hoping for rain for the next week. Hoping our books would last until the following Sunday, feeling the soft glow of our father’s fervor growing in us, converts every summer to his form of worship.
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