Journal Gen X: For the Love of Reading
I can’t imagine a life without daily reading. From the time I was a child, winning reading contests in Mrs. Fletcher’s third grade class to present day, where I read from a book, newspaper, or industry journal every day, reading is just part of who I am. By the way, the reading contests? A mixture of my competitiveness and my absolute love of reading books.
One of the first books I can remember is one my father gave to me, called Little Raccoon and the Thing in the Pool, by Lilian Moore. It’s about a raccoon who, while going fishing, sees his own reflection in a body of water. But he doesn’t know it’s his reflection, and he becomes frightened of it. Each time he encounters the thing in the pool, he tries a different tactic to scare it away. Making a mean face, shaking his fist, etc. When he takes these actions however, the Thing does them right back at him. Finally, his mother tells him the next time he sees the Thing he should smile at it. Little Raccoon does so, and the Thing in the pool smiles back. He learns it was his reflection all along and if he is kind to it, that kindness will be returned. When I think of this book now, I remember the countless hours my father spent reading this and many other books to me. I remember the shelf of children’s books that lined one of our living room walls, purchased by my father for his children to expand their minds. I remember being forced to read the newspaper out loud as a child, which I hated at the time because it contained big words. But it was having a cumulative and transformative effect on me that I wouldn’t realize until later in life.
I read Judy Blume’s Blubber while sitting high up in a large oak tree at my Aunt’s house. That book spoke to me so strongly that I read it in one day that summer. I used to love climbing trees and have a few fond memories of either climbing up or down a sturdy old growth tree at one relative’s house or another. In a previous article I mentioned my paternal Grandmother, Thelma, and her skill for sewing. One day I climbed a tree in her side yard with my granny doll. It was a cloth doll with a kind face and gray hair pulled back into a bun and it was my absolute favorite possession at the time. I never went anywhere without that doll. So, I’m climbing down the tree with granny doll in tow, and unbeknownst to me, one of her arms gets stuck on one of the branches. I jump down, and granny doll comes with me, minus one of her arms. I don’t think I have to tell you how upset I was. I ran into the house, crying about granny’s arm. My dad and others were there, too, so there was quite an audience to witness my drama. In her usual calm manner, Thelma quickly sewed the arm back onto granny’s torso and it was good as new. Every time I see an old growth tree with good climbing branches a memory flashes in my mind. Half the time it’s the granny doll episode. The other half it’s the Blubber episode. Both make me smile.
I was a happy child but ripe for occasional teasing due to my clothing, which never consisted of the latest labels. While I never wanted for food, shelter or clothing, I wasn’t on anyone’s best dressed list, so the narrative of Blubber resonated with me. It’s told by a girl named Jill, who joins with her classmates in bullying another girl named Linda. Linda gives a presentation about whales one day and is given the nickname blubber by Wendy, the most popular, and spiteful, girl in the class. The story takes a few twists and turns and even includes a mock trial. I won’t give away the ending- you’ll have to read the book. While I didn’t exactly embody all the attributes of the main character, I could relate to her. I could relate to Linda, too. And I knew girls like Wendy. That book enraptured me, and I stayed in the tree for about an hour after I had finished, not wanting to leave the story. At that time in my life, that book helped me cope- with adolescence, with my parent’s divorce, with the whole, heavy world.
The Choose Your Own Adventure series of books was another favorite as a child. In these books the reader was the main character. One could be a deep-sea diver, a hiker in a strange cave, a race car driver. After describing the situation, the reader was given a few choices on how to proceed. Each choice would come with it a twist to the adventure and ultimately a different ending. I adored these books for the control they gave me in determining the outcome, and the ability to start over if I didn’t like the ending. Reading this series allowed me to imagine myself as the driver of my destiny.
Most of the books I owned as a kid were acquired through the book fairs at school. The day the books were delivered to us is one of my fondest memories of school. The teacher would hand me a set of books all crisp and new, bound with a big rubber band, a slip of paper bearing my name tucked underneath. It was a new stack of possibilities, waiting to unfold.
For those of us with an insatiable need to read but a lack of storage space at home, libraries are the solution. When I was very young, I spent all the time I could in my school library. There were a couple of books I remember checking out a lot. One was The Little Match Girl. I identified with the relationship this girl had with her grandmother, and the artwork is gorgeous. Another book I remember checking out a lot was Frog and Toad are Friends. I liked reading about the friendship between two very different beings because it reminded me of the relationship between me and my best friend at the time. When I was old enough to get a card at my local public library, it opened a whole new world for me. The library in my hometown was within biking distance, so in the summers it was the place to find me.
As an adult, I read for a variety of reasons: to enhance my knowledge of a subject, to live vicariously through someone else’s experience, to be transported to another place entirely. Reading is meditative, cathartic, inspiring. To me, reading is part of a healthy, fulfilling life.
I’ve taken an appreciation for public libraries into adulthood, too. I’ve lived in many different states over the past several years, and books are heavy to move, so my husband and I have made it a habit to not accumulate too many new books. One of the best features of my current library is the ability to put a hold on any book that’s not currently on the shelf at my local branch. They will ship it to my branch from any other branch in the state, and I get an email when it has arrived. Recently, I received an email that several books I had put on hold were ready to be picked up. I gave my name at the front desk, and the librarian walked to the large shelf behind her. She returned and handed me a set of books with my name on it, crisp and new, bound together with a rubber band. I felt a familiar flash of happiness as I took my new stack of possibilities home. The adventure continues, and I can’t wait to explore the endings.