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Reading Memories, Part One: October 25, 2008

October 25, 2008

Reading has been such an important part of my life for as long as I remember, that I don’t remember what it was like not to read. Nor do I remember the experience of learning to read. All I remember is my first reader wasn’t about Dick and Jane and Spot. It was about a boy, a girl and a dog called Tip.


I’m pretty sure I took to reading like a duck to water. My mother used to say she bagged me reading National Geographic when I was seven, but I’m sure I was just looking at the pictures. Still, I never took a reading comprehension test in which I was at my grade level; I was always reading beyond it. I was intensely proud of myself at 13 because I was reading at a college level.


I lived all over the place growing up, so I can place how old I was by where I was. I have no memory of books in the third grade, none at all. I remember Captain Kangaroo, but only because I could only watch half before having to go to the bus stop. I remember playing outside and I remember my classroom and the teacher I adored. But no books.


Fourth grade is where I first saw The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. The title intrigued me, but I could never quite work up the nerve to go look at it. I can still see it on the bookshelf next to the classroom door. The thing I do remember reading in fourth grade is Hawaiian history: King Kamehameha I uniting the islands, warriors going over the pali, the king’s favorite wife, Kaahumanu. (We were living in Hawaii at the time, so this actually makes sense.)


Fifth grade is when I finally read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. The things that stick out for me are Mr. Tumnus’s sweetness, the Turkish Delight, supper at the beavers’, especially the jelly roll. I wanted to step into a wardrobe and find myself in a magical place; I mostly wanted to step away from my own life. Reading still does that for me, give me a respite for whatever’s oppressing me, a vacation for my mind and heart.


Fifth grade was also my introduction to English history. I went with my dad to visit my mother, who was in the hospital, but I couldn’t go in. (It was a military hospital and I was 11 years old.) My dad left his copy of Thomas B. Costain’s The Three Edwards on the seat; bored, I picked it up and was soon entranced by Edward and his lovely wife Eleanor.


Sixth grade was The Hobbit, of course. A classmate, Jim Young, turned the book into a fabulous play that the class put on. My best friend Becky went on to Lord of the Rings, but I was intimidated until at least 9th grade…and after that, I read it every summer. Sixth grade was also when I read A Crown for Elizabeth for the first time, sparking my lifelong interest in Elizabeth I.


Seventh grade was Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, which I adored. One of the things I’ve come to appreciate is that Taran in the first book is the same Taran as in the last book…except he’s grown up at the end. The series does a fabulous job of showing his maturation over time…but that’s only something I recognized when I re-read the series as an adult.


Somewhere in there, I found Little Women, identifying with Jo even before I knew I’d be a writer too, even though I was never a tomboy, even though my temper was much more like John Brooke’s (a slow burn) than Jo’s (a quick, fierce explosion, soon overcome).


What are your reading memories?

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