When I was thinking where to start my journey with this blog, I thought the spark at the beginning was the right place. It’s hard to say just when one falls in love with something, but for me my love of reading started early. My parents are not overly educated people but they always felt that reading was very important. Both of them read but wouldn’t consider themselves “readers.” They read to us every night when my brother and I were young and before long they couldn’t keep a book out of my hand. I had a curfew but it wasn’t to keep me from going out and making trouble with my friends, it was when I had to turn the light out at night and stop reading.
My favorite book as a young child was a book called Socks for Supper that is well out of print but it was about a poor couple who trade socks for food. Not sure why it was my favorite, maybe because of how creative and ingenious they were, maybe because it was about kindness? Don’t know – if you’re interested, there is this lovely Youtube video that takes you through the story. https://youtu.be/grPvFx2dVoI As a kid, I also loved the Clifford stories, Frog and Toad and the Bernstein Bears.
One of my favorite summer activities as a kid was when my mom brought us to the Camden County Library by the Echelon Mall (any South Jersey readers out there). She brought us there because it had air conditioning, a luxury we couldn’t quite afford to keep pumping at a comfortable level at the height of summer. We would spend hours there reading and picking out books to take home. Trying to decide what to just read in the comfort of the library and which books deserved to come home was like Sophie’s Choice.
My favorite book as a pre-adolescent was Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. I loved the idea of a solitary girl surviving on her own with nothing but a dog for company. It had adventure and ingenuity. I carried this copy around with me constantly. I remember the day it came to be in this condition. We were down the shore and I was sitting on the dock with my feet in the lagoon and klutzy me dropped it. I screamed as if I’d been shot. My dad thought I was insane… it was “just a book.” Regardless of his flippancy about the book, he managed to fish it out and we blow dried it and it remains on my shelf to this day.
After my parents were divorced, I would spend summers living at my grandmother’s house; she and her husband were avid readers. Their house was stacked with books – it was heaven. My grandmother used to write in the inside cover of each book she read her name and the date she finished it. My grandfather always read the last chapter of a book first in order to determine whether it was worth his time. Our idea of a great summer night was to go out to dinner and then browse Barnes and Noble until they closed. My grandmother would also wake me up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday to hit all the local yard sales before anyone else got there; she was hunting antiques and I was hunting books.
As I grew older and got my first job cleaning my neighbor’s deck once a week for their Friday night parties, I finally had a little cash of my own. My favorite place to spend it was at this used bookstore by the Laurel Hill Shoprite, when my dad would go grocery shopping he would drop me there and I’d stock up on 25 cent books. I don’t remember what the place was called but it was a haven for me. That was where I picked up my first proper novel, Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. I was probably 10 or 11 and I felt like such a sophisticated adult that I was able to read such a book. To this day, it’s still one of my favorites.
My first proper job was at Waldenbooks (anyone remember them?) at that very same Echelon Mall. At 16 years old, I was looking for a little freedom and a lot more time in the company of books. So I would take the bus to the mall every day after school and work my 5 hours in the company of the glorious pages. We were allowed to take books home for free so long as we returned them in sellable condition. I read so much those years and was exposed to so many authors I had never considered before.
For me reading is about three things: learning, escaping and connection. As the immortal Johnny 5 said, “need more input.” That’s how I’ve always viewed the world, the more I know the better. Every story teaches me something that sticks with me. Escaping is essential for a person like me, I am a bit of an intense person and sometimes even I need a break from me and the world I’ve created for myself. And finally connection, I struggle relating to people and books help me see inside of people who aren’t like me. I am not an empathetic person and I have always seen the world in black and white. Books help me to see the world in Technicolor just like Dorothy.
What does reading mean to you?