The Joy of Reading: A Brief History

While Ethan and I were on vacation, I read through several wonderful books and it made me think back to a time when I would not have used the words “wonderful” and “books” in the same sentence.  Here’s my reading story.

When I was learning to read at the age of six, my Mom had me read aloud.  I could never focus on the story because every other sentence had to be re-read to correct inflection that indicated punctuation.  “I couldn’t tell that was a question,” Mom would say, impatient. “Your voice has to go up at the end. Read it again.” Let’s just say, it made me hate reading.

In 3rd grade Sunday School, we had a teacher that we called Sergeant.  To this day, I have no idea of her real name, but I do remember the fear she instilled in us and how I always imagined her carrying a horse whip under her arm.  She was a fierce and attractive woman in her thirties who always wore pencil skirts, her hair in a tight bun, and never cracked a smile.  At the beginning of each Sunday school hour, she would have us read our lesson silently.  I was a slow reader and never got through much of it before she called time.  I learned to read the first and last paragraph and if I had time, to skim through the middle parts just to get the gist of things.  After that, she would randomly call upon students to answer questions about the lesson, or worse, to read aloud to the class if they answered incorrectly. One morning, my worst fear came true.

“Miss Squires,” she called me out in her loud and drill sgt. voice (she always used our last names only). “That is not the answer.  Please read to us the 2nd paragraph of this morning’s lesson.” I believe I made it pretty well through the first few sentences, but because I was slow she interrupted and gave a quick summation of what the answer should have been.

“Mr. Cook!” She pointed to next boy.  Poor kid.  He was even more shy than I was.  “Please read the next paragraph.”  He cleared his throat, and read in a barely audible voice while looking straight down at the book in his lap.

“You’re mumbling, Mr. Cook!  Please read so that everyone can hear you.”  The first two words of his next sentence were a bit louder, but overall, the same monotone mutterings continued.  I do not remember learning anything except that mumbling is a very, very bad idea.  Needless to say, this experience did not inspire much of a love for reading either.

It was not until I was twelve that I came to enjoy reading.  On Christmas Eve, the year that my Dad lost his job, an anonymous stranger left us Christmas presents.  We didn’t think we were going to have any presents, so we were ecstatic.  I unwrapped my present to find an American Girl book set. Obviously, I thought, whoever gave me this gift did not know me; otherwise, they would not have given me books–especially not such girly books.  But out of respect for that good deed (and because my mom forced me), I read them and found them to be…tolerable.  They were the series about the tomboy during the Revolutionary War.  And even though I never picked up another American Girl book, I felt a sense of accomplishment.  I had never before read a whole book.  So whoever you are, thank you for opening up the world of books to me.

After that, I started reading Nancy Drew and the condensed books in Reader’s Digest.  I only read the survival stories, but it showed me that there were other interesting books in the world.  At sixteen, I decided to read through the public school’s summer reading list that was printed in the newspaper every year.  I started with Crime and Punishment and loved it.  I learned great words like simpleton and dullard (perhaps not too useful in making friends, but interesting nevertheless).

After college, I’ve averaged around 2-4 books a month.  My favorites are fiction, biographies and memoirs, but I’ve also been known to read a dry nonfiction every once in a while.  So over the last month, my favorite books I’ve read are:

The Road

The Time Traveler’s Wife

The Book Thief

What’s your story and what are some of your favorite books?