Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Books Like Whoa: A Meditation on the Books That Made Me a Reader

I've been thinking lately about what forms our predilections and interests long term. Was it a single art class at summer camp that made you a life-long crafter? Did a year of little league cement your love of baseball? More specifically to myself, what event or experience made me a reader?

I wasn't raised in a voraciously reading household - my father doesn't have the patience to sit through more than a couple of books a year and my mother, while she certainly does enjoy reading, is so busy that she doesn't often have the energy to focus on a book. There were books in our house, but I wouldn't call it a bookish place. We were a family dedicated to our regime of favorite TV shows, not curled up next to the fireplace, quietly enjoying our respective novels. Every study I've seen talks about the importance of parents being readers to encourage their kids to follow suit, so... how did I happen?

Looking back, I can trace my bookwormishness to 3 main books. First, there was Walt Disney's 101 Dalmatians. I remember "reading" this when I was 3 or so... a.k.a., I memorized the audio tape that went along with the book. But being praised so much for "reading" left a huge impression on me. It built my confidence that I could be a good reader.

Next, I happened upon a certain series. Say hello to your friends...

The Babysitter's Club! I tore through these en masse, adoring each adventure with Kristy & the gang (but what a bitch, right? I mean looking back, she was so bossy. Ah... maybe that's why I related so much). I wanted to be a crazy dresser like Claudia and have the perfect boyfriend like Mary Anne. Ann M. Martin was my hero, though I do now feel a little (read: a LOT) betrayed that many of them were ghost-written. These fluffy delights not only cemented my confidence that I could read, but they also made me realize that I liked to read.

Finally, when I was 7 or so, I read the book that made me believe I could read "hard" books... Johanna Spyri's Heidi:

I didn't understand that this was a children's classic rather than a "classic" classic. I thought I had read something that was written for adults. This boosted my reading confidence enormously and I started reading other classics, ones that were actually meant for adults. Do I remember what happened most of them? No. But it was a huge bolster for my vocabulary and literary horizons. I saw myself as someone who could conquer difficult books and that confidence has served me well throughout my reading life, as well as made me someone who genuinely enjoys reading older books.

What were your childhood favorites? Do you think there was a single book that made you believe in yourself as a reader?

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