When reading was fundamental

October 17, 2009

When I was in fourth or maybe fifth grade, my class took part in a contest to see who could read the most books. I was an avid reader and figured I would win handily. But any book counted, even the most punk-ass Dick and Jane-style picture book, so the more enterprising (and shameless) kids soon tallied up stacks of them and left me in the dust. How this was meant to engender a love of reading, I do not know.

Like many girls, I read and reread the Little House Books growing up, but also anything that was at hand. My parents’ shelves were full of classic sc-fi hardbacks, so lots of Asimov and Heinlein, and a handful of early Phillip Roths, most memorably and confusingly Portnoy’s Complaint. (That dumb movie American Pie had nothing on Portnoy’s violated liver.) I learned how to spot “the neurotic woman” from a book called What Every Young Man Needs to Know, and I learned how best to secure your falsies when making love or waterskiing from The Cosmo Girl’s Guide to the New Etiquette. Few books were off-limits to me, but I did have to furtively skim the paperbacks of Jaws and Helter-Skelter. 

I still read a lot, every spare moment, and since I have two young children now that mostly means late at night in bed before succumbing to exhaustion. Reading is what made me want to write, and even when writing is elusive or hateful to me, I still crave the pleasure of a book offering up its weird world.

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One Response to “When reading was fundamental”

  1. Susan Says:

    I, too, was given unfettered access to books, though the ones I deemed most interesting were not usually those in our house, but the ones I found at the library or crammed in the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves at my grandparents’ house. I had my virginal Catcher in the Rye reading at their house. I was too young to understand the angst, but man I wanted to. They also had Helter Skelter. That was the place!

    It’s interesting to be on the other side of that scenario now, what with two avid readers to keep an eye on. When we go to the library they each head off with a basket and choose their path. So far so good, but Julia is reaching that precarious preteen point where she finds books that I’m not sure *I’m* ready for her to read, or ditto for books she sees schoolmates reading (hello Twilight).


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