CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I discovered the joy of books early in life. Even now, there is nothing better than snuggling down with a good book. At every stage of life, books have guided me in how I think about and act in the world.
In my youngest years, there was nothing better than the Grimm Brothers Fairy Tales. Fantastical tales of good and evil, love, betrayal, greed, anger, stupidity, sibling rivalry and dysfunctional families. No doubt these stories shaped my view of the world. No matter how bad things got, there would be a happy ending and good would always triumph over evil.
As a young teen, I became interested in biography. My local library in Pierre, S.D., had a series of about 100 "little blue books" telling the story of great Americans from George Washington, to Betsy Ross, Pocahontas, Susan B. Anthony, and others. One of my favorites was the story of a Frederick, Md., woman named Barbara Fritchie, who during the Civil War, confronted Stonewall Jackson and had her words immortalized by John Greenleaf Whittier:
"Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country's flag," she said.
A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,
Over the face of the leader came;
The nobler nature within him stirred
To life at that woman's deed and word;
"Who touches a hair of yon gray head
Dies like a dog! March on!" he said.
The little blue books taught me respect for our country's leaders and that there were many great and fearless women, who helped to shape the nation's destiny.