Keeping with the unintentional theme of experiences for this month’s blog, I thought I would share my memory of the first time I was able to read and how it has shaped me.
I was approaching the end of first grade and there was a strong chance I was going to fail. No matter how hard my mother and teacher tried to explain it, I couldn’t even read a simple two-word sentence. I wish I could express to you how difficult it was for me, but since I was six, I don’t really remember.
What I do remember is that just when we were about to give up, I got a phone call from my father, whom I hadn’t seen often since my parents divorced when I was two. He had just moved to VA, and I was back in CA where I had been born. That long distance call from one side of the United States to the other was what I needed. I distinctly remember sitting on the toilet while I read to him The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein without making a single mistake. It was one of the proudest moments of my childhood.
My mother was, of course, a bit bruised that my father got me to do something with one phone call that she couldn’t with months of hard work and coaching. I’m still not sure how my father calling me helped either since the conversation did not include him encouraging me. I had actually asked if I could read him a story, and he said he would love it. I recently mentioned the memory to my father, and he informed me that he hadn’t realized how big of an accomplishment it had been at the time. But with every book I pick up, I’m reminded of that moment. Maybe all that was holding me back was stubbornness, at least that’s what my mother thinks.
Three years later, my mother remarried and we moved to AL. I was in fourth grade, and my reading teacher was named Ms. Swann. Having read The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B White, I loved the name. Her class was my favorite too, and she encouraged me to read anything I wanted. I’m not sure how many can say this, but Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling (apparently a 7th grade level book) got me kicked out of her class and sent to an Advanced Reading one. There, another teacher informed me that ‘the author of a story I can’t even remember made the curtains blue to express the character’s depression.’ I, for one, have never colored a scene to suit my character’s emotions. Maybe their personality, but that isn’t the same.
Despite my lack of interest in breaking down stories to find a hidden meaning where there isn’t one, I kept reading “advanced” books and eventually stumbled across The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop. My mother had found them in a stack of used paperbacks the library was selling and bought them for a cheap price since the covers were coming off.
These books shaped my love for fantasy and made me want to write my own stories. I was captivated by the way her heroes weren’t completely good and how they were constantly mistaken for being the enemy. The female was not a damsel in need of saving from a strong man either. She was a powerful adversary who would not allow anyone to harm those she cared about.
My current taste in books can be generously described as eclectic and I often re-read The Black Jewels Trilogy, which has expanded beyond the original three books. I read almost anything and have difficulty not buying a book when I walk into a bookstore. The smell of paper and coffee just might be my weakness.
It never fails to amaze me how a good book can make the reader feel as if they are with the characters. My ultimate goal as a writer is to touch upon this phenomenon. I don’t expect to become famous or make millions, but if my books can touch a person’s life and transport them, even for a moment, I will be happy.
Last year, my seven year old son discovered a passion for reading, and I’m proud to say I am raising a bookworm who would rather buy a book than something else. For his birthday, he received some spending money to buy anything he wanted, so I took him to Walmart. He quickly found a Pokemon towel and said he would get it since he had enough. Before we left, we went to the book isle where he found a book he had been wanting. After some adding, he realized he could only buy one, and I watched him debate over the choice between the towel and the book. It must have been difficult for him, but his response warmed my heart.
“I’m going to get the book since I have lots of towels, but I don’t have this book.”
Every time I catch my son with his nose in the latest book, I’m reminded of The Giving Tree and how it started my own path in reading. Isn’t it amazing how a story can shape you?