Searching the Web for jobs in the publishing industry and voraciously scouring Amazon.com’s “Career” page offerings has revealed a common theme. Employers are seeking candidates that know the literary landscape, are voracious readers, and have a passion for books. As I peruse these ads, my mind screams out, “That’s me! That’s me!” It has also made me ponder, when did this love of books and reading begin?
Was its genesis the traveling of my index finger over the simple words as my mother guided me through my first books? Or, was it one particular book that stoked my literary flame to which I jumped into and was never the same once I emerged from its fiery grasp?
My mother taught me to to read. It seems strange to commit this to print as shouldn’t a child learn to read from a teacher? I was no prodigy; I don’t remember reading before age five, so it would seem logical that a teacher would have been the first to school me in this fine art. I can recollect sitting in a semi-circle on the floor with my peers and gazing up as my teacher glided her pointer stick in a steady line over simple words like, “cat” and “house.” She would fling the massive paper sheets back with abandon when we finished a page propped precariously on its metal easel. However, to me, this was not reading. Reading was sitting at home, saddled on the sofa next to my mother, companionably ambling through “Dick and Jane” readers and delighting in Margaret Hillert books.
My elementary school years are foggy with a mash-up of books that came and went, none leaving much of a mark. I can remember, with some fondness, reading the “The Boxcar Children” with my brother on Saturday mornings. I was inspired by the independence and resourcefulness of the Alden siblings in the face of adversity. Many a dream of living in abandoned boxcars (that continues to this day in all its reclaimed/repurposing glory) stemmed from reading that series.
Every year, after school let out for the summer, my brother and I would have reading competitions to see who could read the most books on break. Added incentive was the $1.00 payment garnered from our parents for each book completed. I always won, but he had more friends. While I was rich monetarily, he was wealthy socially.
The book that thoroughly enthralled my pre-teen self was Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle In Time.” Reading this book at age twelve, with a mousy, intelligent, thirteen-year-old protagonist to whom I could relate, was particularly memorable. Unlike her predecessors — Nancy Drew, fairy princesses, and the older girls of the Judy Blume series that I read before my chronological age matched those of the main characters — Meg Murry and I were on the same page. Also, at the time of its reading, I was staying with a devoutly religious aunt and the Christian overtures of the book carried a bit more weight than they would have in my past, given my agnostic upbringing. Though much of the philosophy and symbolism sailed over my adolescent head, it introduced me to literary terminology like “foreshadowing” and “allusion.” Taking apart a book and dissecting the innards was a revelation.
As the years of my reading forays trudged on, I could be found at recess in junior high, sitting with a book on top of the toilet seat. While my peers were rambunctiously playing in the school yard, I was self-sequestered in the bathroom, the only oasis of peace I could find. I went to a segregated school in the south-end of town so reading was a means of escape — both figuratively and literally — from the peers that would bully me because my skin color was different and because they thought me smarter than they were. If it appeared I was going to the bathroom, the students and staff would leave me alone.
I tell folks the toilet tale to prove my conviction to the cult of reading. I suppose that this is where my love of reading was cemented. The story garners a laugh and the occasional sideways glance, but to me, it’s my rite of passage — from being casual reader to card-carrying, hopeless bibliophile. The love affair continues to this day and I hope to share my passions and insights with you here. Thanks for taking the time and most importantly, for reading.