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40 T/D/Y #3: Reading

I know for a fact that one of my earliest memories dates back to the summer I was three, and I believe a few others date back about that far too. So when I say that I cannot remember a time when I could not read, I mean that reading is that fundamental a part of my identity; prior to that, I was a toddler with a toddler’s very limited sense of self. My parents have said that I taught myself how to read, but in fairness they did read stories to us and I also watched a lot of Sesame Street, so it’s not like I had no help.

Another one of my early memories, I believe from when I was four, is of being at my friend’s house across the street and his parents asking me to read “This Is the House That Jack Built,” to demonstrate my reading ability. I remember them making a fuss about it, being all amazed and having me show off for some other grownups. I also remember on the one hand being pleased of course that they were praising me for it, and on the other hand not really understanding what the fuss was about: of course I could read, why wouldn’t I be able to.

In first grade, we spent a good amount of class time learning the alphabet, using The Letter People program. I didn’t mind, because I enjoyed the characters and stories, but I didn’t actually learn anything new from it either. Also in first grade, on our first trip to the library, after the librarian read a story to us, we were directed toward a shelf or two to pick out a book to borrow. I don’t remember what I borrowed that time—it may have been a Richard Scarry book, I loved those—but I do remember Mom being slightly displeased about the selection. She sent me back with a note for the librarian asking that I be allowed to select books for a higher reading level; the librarian had me read a page or two from some book and explain what I’d just read to demonstrate my understanding, and then I was allowed to select from books up to the third grade shelves. Sometimes I still brought home a Richard Scarry book, but I definitely took advantage of the wider reading available. By third grade I had the run of the whole library; I probably wasn’t the only student allowed to do that, but I’m sure not many were.

I’m also the only person I know who ever got in trouble for reading too much in school. Routinely I’d be caught not paying attention in class because I’d already read the chapter we were supposed to be reading through and discussing, and instead I’d be reading ahead further in the book, or maybe reading some other book entirely. My teachers didn’t discourage me from reading as such, they just strongly encouraged that I pay attention in class and participate.

Up until college, I read voraciously; I’d always have some book going and generally have one along with me wherever I went. Once I was old enough to know not to follow strangers, my parents could safely leave me in a bookstore while they did other shopping, because they knew I’d still be there when they got back. We had the 1976 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia, and I read through it… multiple times.* I didn’t actually read every article, of course, but I did enjoy browsing through it and absorbed a lot. I’d read pretty much anything. I developed a love of Greek mythology at an early age, and by fifth grade I’d dug up my mom’s copies of W.H.D. Rouse’s prose translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey, which she’d read in college, and read them. I also loved fairy tales and fantasy. I remember in fourth grade seeing a copy of Tolkien’s The Two Towers at my cousins’ summer cottage, my slightly older cousins claiming it was too hard to read, and thinking that I bet I could understand it; I didn’t read it then, but it must’ve been not much more than a year later that I plowed through The Lord of the Rings.

Not surprisingly, I ended up majoring in Literature in college. However, college is where I finally met my match: so… much… reading! It was very hard to keep up; indeed, by senior year I was simply failing to get all my reading done for all my classes. Usually I’d try to catch up later, but there was more than one novel that I simply never read, and naturally failed those exam essays. I did have decent grades overall and earned my bachelor’s degree, but that pretty much broke me.

Since then, I’ve read much less than I used to. Of course I’ve had more demands on my time and more interests to pursue, but I’ve also had less interest in seeking out new books to read. That said, reading is still both one of my greatest strengths and one of my greatest weaknesses. If ever I want a distraction from something I’m supposed to be doing, there’s always a book I can read or re-read. If I remember some favorite bit from a particular book I haven’t read in a while, it’s always dangerous for me to pull the book out just to read that bit, because invariably I will find myself up at 5 AM (which, yes, is very late even for me) having skimmed through the whole book yet again. The Internet, of course, is a huge distraction for me due to this weakness. However, my passion for reading and my ability to absorb a lot of information fairly quickly does help make me very good at my professional work as an editor, and also still serves me well for picking up odd bits of information that come in handy at odd times.

*I'm very amused to see in Wikipedia's article that apparently it's marketed for readers above 15 years old. I was probably half that when I started reading it regularly.


( 1 wrote — Write )
Nov. 29th, 2009 05:54 am (UTC)
I’m also the only person I know who ever got in trouble for reading too much in school.... That whole paragraph could easily be applied to my third grade year verbatim. Fourth grade was more reasonable.
( 1 wrote — Write )

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