The Joy of Reading

If I’m writing about topics I love, I think the joy of reading deserves at least one blog post. To this day, the best gift my mother ever gave me was teaching me how to read at 3. The best gift my dad ever gave me was teaching me how to swim around the same age, but that’s another blog post.

I was the firstborn in my family, and when my mom found out she was expecting, she checked out all the books on childrearing she could find from the Auburn library. Among them was Glenn Doman’s Teach Your Baby to Read.

For my friends with children who want to know the details, the method was fairly simple: start off around 18 months with 20-30 words – Mom, Dad, juice, baby – and write them on white flash cards. There was an exact science to this – lettering had to be red and the cards had to be a certain size, etc. Twice a day you spent about five minutes (when the child was already captive in the highchair) reviewing select words. There was a science to this too – you had to stop before the child got bored, leaving them always wanting more, etc. You gradually increased the vocabulary, the thought process being when the child learned to say the word, they learned what it looked like in print on the card. As a result – thanks to my mom and no genius on my part – I could read by the time I was 3.

When a child learns to read early, not only can they entertain themselves, but everything becomes easier – spelling, language, history, even math, because they can understand instructions and process  information quicker. I found the words in the church hymnals were no longer a mystery to me and I could sing along. I could read warning signs and magazine titles my friends were oblivious to.

By 6, I decided a lot of my childhood storybooks were good, but they didn’t quite have it right. As soon as I could grip a pen, I decided to write my own. In the first grade I skipped school to write a short story about a girl who lost her shoe to a neighborhood dog (inspired by my own dreadful experience). That only worked one time – my mom, who had kept me home because she thought I was sick, caught on when I kept calling her into the room asking to spell words like “elementary” and “sidewalk.” When I was 9, I decided to write my first novel. My dad had an old Apple computer (black and green screen, floppy disks!) which he gamely let me use – giving me my own disk, titled Mandy’s Disk to fill with whatever my brain could imagine.

In the meantime, I read everything I could get my hands on – The Boxcar Children, Choose Your Own Adventure books, Shel Silverstein poems, Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, and later Sweet Valley High and R.L. Stein. As part of her own summer reading program, my mom offered to pay me 50 cents for reading classics such as Tom Sawyer, Little House on the Prairie and Old Yeller. I developed a love of young adult books that I still have to this day. My two favorites were The Outsiders and The Scarlett Pimpernel.

In the movie You’ve Got Mail, shop owner Meg Ryan’s character quips, “When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of you in a way no other book does.” And it’s true.  I learned cleverness from The Bobbsey Twins, entrepreneurship from The Baby-SittersClub, femininity from Little Women and bravery from Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry.

As an adult, books still play a huge part in my life – there’s nothing like literally getting lost in a good book, pulse racing, from the comfort of your living room. Unlike movies, books force you to think – to visualize the setting, the characters, so that everyone’s perception of Hunger Games, for example, is slightly different.

While I do more writing than reading nowadays, good books I’ve read are like old friends. They’re smiling at me from the bookcase, beckoning me to another world with characters to revisit and adventures to share.

Above all, books teach us not only the beauty of a good story, but the value of story and writing our own.