Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Joy of Reading

When I was a kid, years and years and years (and years) ago, I loved to read. I started with the classics - Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, Heidi. I remember winning an award in Grade two - I hadn't read the most books for our competition but I had read the most. The books I picked were two and three (and four) times larger than the choices of my peers.
Whatever I could find, I read. I remember reading an Alice Munroe book while in elementary school, not understanding a number of the references but making it my favorite, devouring it time after time. Almost completely opposite that, I discovered the baby sitters club through my scholastic book club in grade five, ordering 'Kristy's Big Idea' and falling for these plucky entrepreneurs. Sweet Valley High came next, with the identical but different twins and their adventures. There were a few others series at that point - books based on kids in the same class, books that were obviously copying the formulaic success of BSC and SVH. I needed more.
I found VC Andrews and she taught me that there were people in the world that were messed up, many of which were living in an attic. I found Agatha Christie and she taught me that a murder could be solved as long as you had a egg shaped head and a great mustache. I found Judith Krantz and she taught me... well, um... read 'Scruples' and you'll find out what she taught me. I found back copies, old copies, damaged and loved copies at second hand book stores and tried to find more like it. I read indiscriminately from my mothers book shelf and found that the books you mean to send back as part of your 'book of the month club' are ones that your daughter will devour later in life.
Then I discovered the Margarets - Atwood because she was on my mothers book shelf and I had to check her out, Laurence because of a High School English course and those second hand bookstores. I read of old ladies, young bullies, plaid pins, cat's eyes and dreams. They, and the AP English exam I was challenging, brought me to 1984, Of Mice and Men and other books published by other Dead White Males. High School was a time of what literature classes felt I should read (Shakespeare, Lord of the Flies, 1984 and of course Lure of the Labrador Wild) and books that I could find to fill my need to read - Atwood, Laurence, Andrews, Krantz, Fast and others. I needed books.
Because I loved to read I did an English degree. Loving to read is the WORST reason to do an English degree. I found more books, more authors, took more trips to the second hand bookstore to find more authors. I discovered Maeve Binchey and other writers like her. I graduated and spent as much time as I could reading outside while my then boyfriend, now husband, skateboarded (one of the best skate spots was across from one of the best second hand book stores).
And so it progressed, me and my love for reading. There are few books I have not finished (Old Man and the Sea was one, Fellowship of the Rings another). I find new authors all the time - some serious, others less so - and I buy from major chains, small stores and second hand stores. I don't use the public library now, an irony, given my profession. I read, and read, and read, adult and ya fiction. And I watch.
What do I watch? I watch kids take out books that are written for them. I see formulaic being a specialized genre with so many other books taking over. I see choice! Dystopian, supernatural, realistic, science fiction, fantasy, graphic novels - and on and on. I see English classes learning they need to take out the books that I studied (because, yes,they are still on the roster) and bring in choice and independent learning. For fear of sounding very 'kids today don't know how lucky they have it', kids today don't know how lucky they have it. There is stuff written for them that doesn't (just) include perfect blonde twins. They see teens their age fighting, learning, living and dreaming. And the kids are doing it along with them.
And now it is going full circle. I see my son becoming the reader I was at his age. I hope that when he is my age he can look back on his thirty years of reading and say the same thing as me. That he has had a life full of joy, with one of the greatest joys being reading.


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