A Trip Down Reading Lane

Watching my daughters become readers is one of the highlights of motherhood. I can think of little I treasure more than giving the girls books or spying on the ones they bring home from the school library, and learning which ones they particularly enjoy.

Last night as I drifted off after another long, semi-successful day pretending to be parent who knows what she is doing, I started thinking about books that I read as a kid. Particularly, the books that I liked so well, I can credit them with turning me into a reader. It struck me that the experience of reading these books was so visceral that I even have memories of where I read them or how I got my hands on them in the first place. To me that means that these occasions are imprinted on my psyche firmly enough to lend deep significance to those experiences. Reminiscing about those books brings a warmth similar to remembering a dear childhood friend. And this morning I looked at my daughters and wondered, what books will they remember as the ones that started them on a life-long love affair with words?

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Above is a photo of the exact edition of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, that I owned at about ten years old. Mildred D. Taylor sucked me into 1930s Mississippi via Cassie Logan and her African-American sharecropping family. This 1976 Newbery Award winner taught me about racism, resilience, pride, deep familial bonds, and piqued my interest in the American South of decades past. I quickly read the rest of the novels Taylor penned about the Logan family. I cherish the experience of reading those books. I have a very strong memory of standing in the Bon Air Public Library in Louisville, facing the "YP" (Young Person?) shelves, reaching up, and possessively plucking the next in the series off the shelf to check out. I still get that feeling when I walk through a library or brick and mortar bookstore having claimed a book written by an author whose work I have just discovered in a previous book. 

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I believe this is the cover of the copy of Bridge to Terabithia that Mrs. Bayne handed us to read in fifth grade. This book was often banned; concerned parents argued that the topic of death was too heady for their kids. I disagree. As a beloved character's death was revealed in the novel, I remember reading those pages over and over, thinking that I must somehow be misunderstanding. My denial mirrored the real-life stages of grief. I was spared the loss in "real life," of course; this was just a book. But it demonstrated the way in which books can help us understand situations outside ourselves, develop empathy for others, become bigger people with more open hearts. I couldn't have verbalized any of that at the time, but I am positive that Bridge to Terabithia opened a door to relating more deeply to others. Amazing that a book can be that powerful.

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A cream colored boxed set of Maud Montgomery's first three Anne novels appeared on Christmas morning under the tree circa fourth grade. About a year or two later, at age eleven, I began reading the paperback version of Anne of Green Gables you see above. Over the next several typically bumpy years (ah to be twelve or thirteen again, no thank you very much), Anne kept my spirits afloat. I loved her awkwardness, her spunk, her imagination. Anne was full of flaws, yet still lovable, the perfect hero for an insecure adolescent. And Montgomery's gorgeous descriptions of Prince Edward Island in Nova Scotia were particularly vivid. Anne seemed to live in a simpler time and place and I escaped the world of Guess jeans, middle school lockers, and peer pressure through Montgomery's writing. I still feel a deep affection toward Anne, despite her fictional status, for holding my hand through those years.

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The summer after ninth grade my grandmother took my 14-year-old self to the library in search of books to wile away the June afternoons. I picked up Jane Eyre from the black wire rotating book stand and she highly recommended it. I can still very vividly remember sitting on the steps of her back porch, this pink paperback in hand, unable to stop turning pages, marveling that something written so long ago could be so mesmerizing. This was an introduction to the classics, and specifically to Victorian gothic lit, which I've never gotten over. I still love, love, love this genre. My romantic little heart has yet to recover from it's pubescent encounter with Jane and Mr. Rochester. 

Share with me the titles of the books that turned you into a reader.