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Discovering Books

When The Reading Light Went On

March 12, 2000

Valerie Fields, 73, a former first-grade teacher and education advisor for the late Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, is now a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District board:

Reading was an important activity in my home.

My parents were avid readers. My dad read at least four books a week. My very early memories include accompanying my mother to the neighborhood pharmacy, which had a lending library, and to the big library downtown. I also remember sitting on my mother's lap while she read to me. One of her oft-repeated aphorisms was, "Books are your friends." That was a warning to treat them gently.

My family subscribed to three newspapers; two of the Sunday papers had big comic sections (the third was the New York Times). I was the first up and brought the papers in from the front porch. I can clearly picture myself stretched out on the living room floor, the funny papers spread out before me. My earliest recollection of actually reading was my suddenly understanding what was in the balloons in the comic strips! That led to my first library card, and a life enriched by adventures in books. During the Great Depression, that was the only way one could have adventures.

Starting in junior high school, my mother provided summer reading lists that included a virtual potpourri of authors and genres--"Main Street" by Sinclair Lewis, "Gone With the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell, "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen were some vacation-time books I eagerly devoured. I had to get written permission from my parents to check out some of these "adult" titles from the public library.

Nowadays my reading time is devoured by material I need to plow through to be an informed member of the Board of Education. I compensate for that by listening to books on tape in the car on the way to board meetings or school visits. Currently, I am listening to one from that summer list--"Pride and Prejudice"--for I fear I really didn't appreciate that delicious language as a preteen.

Oh, and by the way, I still read the comics!

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