Thursday, May 16, 2013

In Which I Have the Stupidest Kind of Amnesia

Somewhere along the line, I forgot that I love to read. 

And I do. I really, really do.

I imagine that somewhere in my mind there is a little hole where important information like this tends to leak out when I'm not looking. I think it happens when work gets more than its fair share of me, and this is an easy thing to happen. It is even easier because I fiercely love my work.

But still, y'all.

I forgot.

I have been reading as long as I can remember, and I mean that sincerely. I do not remember learning to read. I just knew how as long as my brain had all its parts that make memories of things. I do remember still having my fat little toddler legs when my mom would trot me through the living room when we had company and whip out one of her tabloid rags. "Do it," she'd say with a big grin and I would read whatever headline she pointed at. To prove it wasn't a trick, the guest got to pick out words for me to read next. I like to think they only chose the good items from the National Enquierer, ones about Patrick Swayze being a nice guy or that up-and-comer Tom Cruise being good to animals.

From then on, I was hooked. My mom, from whom I inherited my literary gene, read me Charlotte's Web over and over so many times that we started taking turns--she would read it to me, then the next night I would read it to her. We went to yard-sales and bought up stacks of Reader's Digest condensed books which had fat, gilded spines that called to me like sirens and I got my first taste of Ring of Bright Water and Old Yeller. I read everything I could get my hands on, and faster than anyone could keep up with, so I developed a penchant early on for being a notorious re-reader. It has never phased me a bit to pick up a copy of something I've read six times and drink it down a seventh.

It was only natural that someone who loved words that much would turn to writing her own. When I was really young, used to steal all the good pens in the house and write what clumsy words I knew on the blank pages in the front of all my picture books. My earliest notable work came during summer camp when I was still young enough that I was not allowed to staple the pages together myself. It was a harrowing tale with hand-drawn illustrations known as The Adventures of Katy the Kitten. 

It was about a kitten. Named Katy. I think stuff happened to her. I only had about half a frontal lobe at the time, so I'm not really sure.

Either way, my dad caught on to what kind of daughter he had on his hands--he bought me a grown-up desk and a Brother electric typewriter for Christmas when I was just seven years old.

When I wasn't at my little typewriter, I had my Mead spiral notebooks and Lisa Frank pen collection. I will never forget that giddy blank-page hopefulness that would come when I would flip over to a fresh sheet of paper and think up a character and an opening sentence to write neatly on the top line in hot-pink ink.

Yes. I had hot-pink ink, and yes, I liked it.

I read and wrote my way through childhood so thoroughly that in the seventh grade, my teacher realized that I had already read all the books on the literature curriculum and she had nothing else for me to do during in-class reading time, so she loaned me her own paperback copy of The Client by John Grisham. (I still really like that book, by the way. Early Grisham may not be high-literature, but there's some good meat there! Besides, it's fun.)

In high school, like any red-blooded American teenager, the rebellious part of me kept me from reading the assigned books for my honors English classes, but it didn't stop me from reading other books I found on the classics shelf next to the ones I was supposed to read. To this day, I have still never finished Moby Dick or The Scarlet Letter, but I discovered Flowers for Algernon (which may have subconsciously awakened my intense fascination with psychology) and The Catcher in the Rye. The exceptions to my rebellion included To Kill a Mockingbird, Fahrenheit 451, and Cold Sassy Tree, all of which changed my life in one way or another. (Read the books they tell you, kids. These teachers might know a thing or two...)

In college, I read my way through most of the complete works of C.S. Lewis and discovered that not all non-fiction is horrible, dry stuff that drags trenches in my brain. I read Night by Elie Wiesel alone in my dorm room and cried so much I had to skip class. A fierce passion for social justice took up residence deep inside my bones and started rattling around. I devoured Dead Man Walking and Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger and built myself some soapboxes. I was a hungry, zealous psych major and I read Man and his Symbols by Carl Jung as readily as my friends were reading Harry Potter. Then I read Harry Potter.

Then I graduated and went to work at a bookstore. 'Nuff said.

I still read, but I forgot that I like it. For the last six years or so, I have kept a notebook with a list of every book that I read. I have made myself a rule for every one of those years that I would read at least two books every single month. I have still managed to do this without fail, but somewhere when my work started getting hard and the writing guilt-monkeys took over my brain, it became a chore. I chose books for their spine size instead of the mood I was in or what they were trying to say to me. I got in those two books, but it might have been on the last day of the month and they might have been plays because they are short but are bound with pages and they count as books.

I am reading three books right now, and all for fun. Some are better written than others and they are all of totally different genres, but they are FUN. They are fun because I wanted to read them, so I picked them up and started reading them. That was all there was to it.

It has been too long since I've done that.

Today, I remember. I LOVE READING. Writing is my passion, but that passion came from READING OTHER PEOPLE'S GOOD WRITING. How can a passion born of another passion thrive if not fed? Reading and writing go hand in hand--no, they go heart in chest--and I can't excel at one unless I slow down and put in the work with the other. Reading makes you think, and who wants to read something written by a person who doesn't know how to think?

Plus, you know, I like it.

I forgot to take care of a large part of how I came to be the person I am, and that really is the stupidest kind of amnesia.

Maybe it's time to re-read Charlotte's Web and the National Enquirer, where all good things begin.


Anonymous said...

No, Grisham isn't Shakespeare, but, as you said, it's fun. These days I read mostly for fun, although I do throw in something heavy every now and then. Don't lose that joy, and you're else can you become a master in all parts of the language unless you learn from those who are good at it?
I so enjoyed reading this...keep it up!

Marisa said...

I have long been a staunch defender of popular fiction. As a recovering literary snob, I learned the hard way that I was missing out on a lot of good stuff by judging books by their over-marketed covers. Writers like Grisham and Stephen King DO have a fair amount of less than quality work in their repertoire, but when your volume is so high, it's just simple statistics that there would be a higher propensity for a few duds. There are some really good ones in there too, and they deserve their due for that. Of course, if they don't get it, I'm sure their millions quiet their tears...

Anyway, thanks for reading! Check back--I'm trying to get back into my weekly blogging routine!