A childhood taste for the unusual 'Readaholic': Rebecca Hoffberger grew up in a family of readers. Edgar Allan Poe was a particular -- and perhaps peculiar -- favorite.

August 09, 1998|By Nancy Knisley | Nancy Knisley,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

As a child, Rebecca Hoffberger's reading interests were a little unusual. But that may not be so surprising, considering that she is founder and director of a museum specializing in the unusual.

Hoffberger, 45, whose American Visionary Art Museum on Key Highway features the work of untrained artists, describes herself as a lifelong "readaholic" who grew up in a family of readers.

From her earliest years, the books she enjoyed most were poetry -- such as that of Robert Louis Stevenson -- and rhyming books. She especially delighted in silly rhymes, recalling fondly the book "Touch Blue and Your Wish Will Come True." She can recite from memory some of the poems she loved as a child from that book and others.

Afflicted with rheumatic fever that left her paralyzed and bedridden for several months as a first-grader, she found comfort and escape in a poem about swinging on a swing in Stevenson's "A Child's Garden of Verses," Hoffberger recalled.

Edgar Allan Poe was a particular family favorite. Perhaps an unconventional choice for family book time, but in those pre-"Goose-bumps" days, it was a safe -- and literate -- way to explore the macabre.

And then there was Edgar Cayce, the psychic healer, mystic and clairvoyant who died in 1945. Hoffberger said her mother was interested in the teachings of Cayce, and she herself became intrigued in a way that all children could appreciate.

When she learned that Cayce believed that a book's knowledge could be absorbed by sleeping with it under one's pillow, Hoffberger's spelling words went under hers.

She doesn't remember how she did on that week's spelling test, but, she said, laughing, "I passed to the next grade, so it couldn't have done me too much damage."

Hoffberger readily recalled her answer to that oft-asked question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

"When I was 8, I said, 'An alchemist.' "

As well as reading Cayce's works, even as a young reader, she liked other spiritual books -- in particular the works of Hermann Hesse, whose best-known book is "Siddhartha," a story of a young Indian man's quest for spiritual knowledge.

She was undaunted by the difficulty of Hesse's books. "Kids can understand more than adults often think they can," Hoffberger said.

She enjoyed a lot of books written for adults, Hoffberger said. She liked the bigger words -- and the insight those books gave her into the adult world.

Hoffberger said all her hours spent reading as a child "made me love 'alone time,' my own thoughts and own world."

"Reading gives kids the privacy of their own thoughts," she said. "It's the one time they're not ordered or lectured to. Reading is just you and your thoughts -- a dialogue with the writer."

She still has some of the books she liked as a child and read them to her own children when they were young. And her children enjoyed those books because, through them, they learned a little about what their mother was like as a child.

Although many of the books Hoffberger liked as a child were, perhaps, different, she shares an almost universal memory with young book-lovers everywhere:

"I remember reading all night, still being awake under the covers with a flashlight at 5 a.m. when my father got up for work."

Pub Date: 8/09/98

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