What have books meant to you over your life so far? This was a prompt given to me in my linguistics course this week and though I sat down prepared to draft an informal one-pager, it evolved into something a bit more substantial. I’ve been away from the bloggosphere for the long summer, but I’m revved up to begin again with a new house, a new administrative job at Matrix Systems, a new relationship with one of my best friends, and renewed energy and inspiration to write. Today I begin again.
I was brought into this world with colic, born to two people who vehemently deny ever having been in love, during a massive snowstorm in the middle of winter. I was their first child, and we were just poor enough to make my incipient years a beautiful backdrop for tragedy. However, this is a story about books, not a melodramatic book of its own. Prepare to meet a vain, intellectual, anxiety riddled outcast who made her first friends through fantasy novels
The single greatest social setback of my life was learning to talk far too early, with no age-appropriate outlet. Precocious and opinionated, my parents and teachers agreed that learning to read was for me, an absolute godsend. I finally shut-up, and stopped punching Paul who couldn’t speak at all, (come on, we’re three man, get it together). Books were my first friends quite honestly, because nobody in my classroom could hold a conversation with me. I wanted to know why there were boys in berries but not girls in berries. I wanted to talk about the pumice we found on our family trip to Mt. Saint Helens, because it was so much lighter than normal rocks. These were not topics of interest to my peers, and I quite literally, had no friends at all, just books. I was completely and incandescently happy about it. I quickly ascended the reading levels, speeding hungrily through the blue level, diving instantly through the yellow level into the green level, and championing the exclusive pink level prompting my teacher, Mrs. Bourcey to begin bringing me books from home.
At home, my activity list was short: Picking on my little brother, flooding the lawn to create a “swamp environment” for my plastic animals, or, more frequently, reading by myself. Occasionally my grandmother would take me out for a Makenzie Day. Our first stop was always the Spokane Public Library where I was allowed to pick out any ten books I wanted. I filled my quota almost immediately, and it always ended in the hopeful begging to take eleven, or maybe twelve just this once. I loved the Serendipity books, with a full cast of animal characters, looking out through impossibly inflated eyes, and living in beautiful forest environments with those twinkly rays of sunshine that don’t exist in reality. I would read all day, sitting on my grandmother’s couch under the elaborate, framed cross-stitchings made by my grandfather, eating egg salad sandwiches, (which I only liked if my grandma made them). Books were my favorite game, my most coveted possessions and I relied on them to reinforce the fact that I was ok, and that someone out there would understand me. Then, public school began.
First grade was hellish. I went from a well-crafted Montessori schooling system based on self-promoted learning, cleanliness and respect, to a madhouse of very short crazy people. Ironically, I wanted to be a zookeeper when I grew up. During my elementary years I was terrified by all of the fast moving and impolite kids who ran around me like some terrible carousel, and books were now my lifeboat. Rather than stretching an expectant and quizzical arm to select a promising new story, I flailed madly against the shelves grasping wildly, as I was pushed along by a torrent of snot-rubbing, screaming peers. I would forget my jacket at home so that I could stay inside by myself at recess and read. By the end of my first grade year, my parents began an ugly divorce that would remove my brother and me from my father, then my mother, and bring out absolute vileness from all of the people I trusted at home, in a battle that would span over three years.
I was already enough of a misfit, and kids are abominably cruel when you exhibit any “abnormal” behavior or trait, so by the time I was ten, books had proven to be the only constant in my young life. I believe second grade was the first time any of my teachers suggested I become a writer when I grew up. I had already jumped the gun on writing as a form of therapy during counseling sessions, so when we began to pen our own creations in class I proved to have some talent for it. The more I read, the better I became at writing, and I was frequently allowed to read in class as I would finish my assignments early. I was this miserable thing, wholly not home with a broken house, no friends at school and an acumen that was punished by further alienation rather than celebrated. Ranger Rick magazines were about the only thing I looked forward to going home.
By fourth grade I was reading at an eighth grade level, and writing age-inappropriate “lewd” scenarios in class which earned me a concerned parent teacher conference to discuss red-flag behaviors which indicated possible sexual abuse. The line in question was, “the dragon’s claw had ripped the thin silk of her dress and pressed against her stomach, chilling her bare skin.” My mother keeps the copy to this day, which she found to be an absolute riot.
Books numbed me to the world, while writing allowed me to cocoon myself with false security. In sixth grade I was sent to the principal’s office for saying, “deal with it,” when my teacher asked me to put my book down in class. Reading had become an avoidance strategy and was hampering my ability to grow socially.
I will skip forward to high school, as middle school was atrocious.
I graduated from high school as the top student of literature in my class, which was expected as I excelled beyond our A.P. English program and was frequently spotted book-in-face. I continue to read for pleasure, (or pain), to this day, though hopefully you will agree, my ability to interact positively with my fellow humans has improved considerably.
There are a few individuals who stand out in my life as essential to my reading career, and not surprisingly, that list starts in my home, with my mother. My mom is brilliant and bizarre, and she encouraged me above all, “to be a mutant among the mundane.” When we were young, she did not believe in baby-talking to us, which I believe is directly correlated to my early talent for speaking and reading. She is a lover of prescriptivism and we give each other frequent book recommendations.
My fifth grade teacher Mrs. Miller loved me, loved my tenacity for reading, and couldn’t wait to purchase my first book in a real store. She introduced me to poetry and it quickly became my second favorite genre behind the short story.
In high school I formed a special bond with Mrs. Lentz, the cheerleading coach and my A.P. Literature teacher. She is young, pretty, and sharp as a tack. She selected an exclusive group of us to be a part of an extended reading curriculum akin to a book club of sorts, but it was supposed to be a secret to the rest of the students, and it felt so good to be sneaky.
A list of books and how they shaped me:
Little Pig and the Blue Green Sea –
A pig named Trespassers William sneaks onto a cruise ship, he saves a drowning woman by squealing and is adopted by the captain to “much blissfully on a peach.” This is the first childhood book that I remember, and it was first read to me by my mother. I remember its beautiful watercolor images and reading it over and over again once I could read on my own.
One of those “coping” books about divorce –
I remember that in the book the mother is vacuuming furiously in the living room while the father breaks the news to the children in the dining room. For a long time I was under the impression that my own parents had literally gone “by the book” as my mother had been vacuuming (furiously?) in the other room while my father sat us down in the dining room and told us, “your mother has decided that she doesn’t love us anymore, so she is going to leave.”
Where the Red Fern Grows –
To this day I want my very own pair of redbone coonhounds named Big Dan and Little Anne.
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex* *but were afraid to ask
Oh blatantly subtle asterisk, if you weren’t but an embarrassingly cliché attempt at… what? Humor? Camaraderie? This is NOT a funny subject, and I am certainly not chummy with you! Do not presume to claim confidence with me little yellow tome. Sitting there, cheeky punctuation as if I would have fear. I am thirteen after all.
My father tossed it to me one day to elaborate upon “the talk” should I have any lingering questions. Any handkerchief, any pocket, any color and I can tell you what sexual favor it signifies.
The Name of the Wind –
I have read many books. This book is not particularly high level, or immensely thought provoking. Calling it a fantasy novel is like calling a Studio Ghibli film an anime. He defines his own subgenre and I have never read a better book in the course of my life. Everyone should read this.
Pride and Prejudice –
Faithful Austenite Mumford here! Channeling Elizabeth since 2003 and awaiting my very own Mr. Darcy!