Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Books. The Written Word. Whether fiction or non-fiction, fantasy, mysteries, or young adult, books have been my friends from the very beginning. My father was determined to teach me to read by the time I was four and he very nearly did it. If he hadn't passed away that year I am sure he would have succeeded. My very earliest memories were of sitting on Daddy's lap in the rocking chair while he read Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham and Are you my Mother?
After he died I went through a couple of years of not wanting to read. I think it was because it reminded me so much of him and it hurt too much. As a result I was in the lowest reading group in first grade. I had no interest in it and stubbornly refused to put in the effort.
One day I came home from school and Mom and I sat down to talk. I don't remember much of what she said to me, but I do remember her reminding me of how much Daddy loved words and how sad he would be to know I had turned away from them. Most importantly she said that by sharing his love of books I could make him a part of my life by loving what he loved. It completely changed my attitude and within just a few weeks I'd gone from the lowest reading group to the highest. I just needed the right motivation, I guess.
We lived in the country through elementary, middle, and most of jr. high school (middle school was grades 4, 5, and 6 for me) so there wasn't a lot to do during the summer. Every couple of weeks Mom would take us to the library and my brother and I would check out as many books as they would allow. I found that I particularly enjoyed mythology from around the world. I didn't just read greek and roman myths, I read japanese and native american myths as well. I read ghost stories and mysteries and supposedly non-fictional accounts of alien kidnappings. I tried to read War and Peace when I was ten. I didn't get very far, but I tried. I was willing to give every world in every book a chance.
In sixth grade my teacher tried something that was new for me. We had reading time once a week where she would pass out a whole bunch of books and we would read from each one for five to ten minutes. That was the year I discovered Madeleine L'engle's A Wrinkle in Time and C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. That same year I was going through a box of books belonging to my brother-in-law, mostly filled with Louis L'Amour but near the bottom I found a copy of Edgar Rice Burroughs A Princess of Mars. Suddenly books weren't about things happening in our own world, they were of new worlds where amazing things could happen. The world opened up before me then and I came to believe that anything was possible.
Books were my friends when nobody was around and to this day I find myself turning to the written word when I'm depressed or feeling insecure. Sometimes too much so. In college, I spent the weeks before I got mono reading David Eddings Belgariad and Mallorean series all night long.
My brother and I grew up playing what we called "Space", which was basically an imaginary make-believe game that had us becoming anything from Luke Skywalker to a knight in shining armor. Strangely, there were never many princesses that needing saving in our games. We both wanted to be the knight, homemade swords, shields, crossbows and all. Books inspired that creativity in us and let us be a part of their world.
I think I'm a better person because of it.