Many years ago, while finishing up my Bachelors degree, I was working on a project regarding how television negatively effects children's reading abilities. The irony of this is that I am a HUGE fan of all things literary, but was also a latchkey child - therefore carefully tended by Bewitched, The Brady Bunch, The Flintstones and sometimes even Phil Donahue. The sad thing is I didn't even make the correlation until I was thinking about this post.
As long as I can remember I have loved reading. Joan Cutler, who cared for me when I was younger, would read to me and her son Nathan all of the time. She had impeccable taste in children's books and still does. My favorite by far, maybe because it touched on the little rebel within me, was Gone is Gone by Wanda Gag. It introduced me to the age old debate of who works harder, the husband or the wife. I loved this book. I still remember my 5 year old self thinking, "The husband is so silly to think he can do anything as well as the wife." I loved the whimsical pictures and hearing Joanie's different voices for each character. I have since searched for the book, but have yet to be able to find a copy!
But the real trigger moment for me happened when I was turning 10 years old. My Aunt Rose gave me a copy of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens for my birthday. I remember overhearing my Mom tell someone that I was too young for the book - and wasn't it a shame. So my inner rebellious streak flared up and I became determined to read Great Expectations and prove her wrong! Thank heavens for rebellion. Any of you who have read Dickens know that some of the text can be challenging, or at least a bit wordy, but never the less I did it. I read Great Expectations at the age of 10. It was a tough go, but I quickly got the gist of the story and actually found myself getting into the rhythm of the language and connecting to some of the characters.
It lit some kind of fire in me. I would ride my bike to the library and check out a dozen books at a time. I loved to discover a great author and then read everything they had ever written. I saved up my money and would buy paperbacks at the local book shop, many of which I still have today. There was something so exhilarating about entering a book store! Oh the possibilities for escape....adventure, romance, sadness, laughter, mystery...I was interested in all of it. The librarian at my elementary school saw a budding bibliophile and began suggesting different authors with various writing styles to me. I read Agatha Christie, Lois Lowry, Madeleine L'Engle, John Steinbeck, and even the Bronte sisters. She asked me if I would be her special library assistant. Every time she would receive a new shipment of books she asked me to read them first and let her know what I thought. I loved knowing I was the first to crack the spine of each new acquisition.
I remember in 4th and 5th grade reading something of Judy Blume's and then consuming every book she had ever written. Eventually, I came upon one of her more controversial young adult novels, Forever - which is quite a sex education, for those of you who aren't familiar with the book. Bypassing all need for parental consent and debate, my friend Tonja and I passed this book around our entire class - giving away all the nitty gritty details of some one's "first time." By the time I got the book back the book had been appropriately (or inappropriately) highlighted - with even a few reactions jotted in the margins. I sold the book to a boy in the 6th grade for $5. (We just didn't let Mrs. Anderson, our 5th/6th grade teacher, know she was off the hook for the whole puberty and sex discussion.)
To this day I love to be the first to crack open a new book, the smell, the rustle of the paper, the possibilities. I will admit that Forever pretty much took care of any interest in Romance novels - the one genre that doesn't really interest me. (Although, a well written sex scene in a good novel is never a disappointment :)) Until she passed away, I used to fantasize about meeting Madeleine L'Engle. I read all of her young adult books when I was younger, and all of her other writings as an adult. I felt like she had always been a part of my life and that we would have had an amazing connection. I think the idea of learning and understanding different characters in a novel is one a the greatest benefits of being an avid reader. What better way to begin to understand how people of all different backgrounds think and live. Reading may have started out as a way to prove my Mom wrong - but has turned into a life long love affair.