Friday, October 26, 2012

Turning the Page, A Reading Autobiography - Part 1 - Early Childhood

On account of this class and the resources we have been delving into, I have been thinking a lot about my own childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, surmising upon the manner in which books and reading related to, and subsequently shaped my life.  To this end, I thought it might be interesting to compile a reading/literacy autobiography of sorts. 

When I was young, I was extremely shy. In spite of the considerably substantial vocabulary I possessed for a child of my age, I still only felt comfortable showing my true feelings and speaking freely in front of family and very close friends.I think, more than anything, I was just trapped in my shell for a long time. I always had the thoughts, the ideas, I would know the words to say and want to add them to the conversation, but I just couldn’t bring myself to speak up. One thing that I did have that made me feel free and able to escape, but also to be myself, was reading.

The first people who instilled a love of reading in me were my parents.  My mom was a journalism major in college, and my dad was an avid sci-fi and fantasy reader who grew up reading The Lord of the Rings series, and listening to Led Zeppelin before either of those things was considered cool.  My mom started me off on the right foot, reading to me when I was just a baby.  Some of her favorite books to read to me included the perennial children’s classic, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, and also the timeless tales of Peter Rabbit and Babar.  Little Golden Books were a really big thing when I was little.  I recall The Pokey Little Puppy and Theodore Mouse Goes to Sea. My mom was turned on to author and illustrator, Eloise Wilkin after receiving her books as gifts from friends.  I can still remember the distinctive style of her illustrations where all the children looked like little dolls. What I recollect mostly about her books is the details of the illustrations. I always felt as though I was getting a secret glimpse into the lives of others. I could honestly stare for hours on end at the characters and their bedrooms and toys and furniture. To this day, I love peering into people’s houses all lit up at night, just to see how they live; a notion that correlates very strongly to the voyeuristic nature of reading books.

Starting from the age of three, my dad would take me to the library a few times a month, so that he could stock up on material to read on the train, and for me to check out a stack of books so big I could barely carry it. The public library in our town used to have an actual train car in the children’s section. Once my dad and I had checked out our treasures, we would take our riches over to the train and sit down and pore over each title. We would both go through the same ritual, a ritual that I still perform to this day whenever I have fresh stack of books from the library. We would take each book and flip through it, glimpsing at pictures, making note of the chapter titles, what the font looked like. Then we would read the blurb on the back of the book, and whatever was written on the front and back jacket covers. At this point, I would always put my books in the order I was going to read them. My dad said a really big deal for me was getting my own library card. I think the second I turned five, I was ready to go down to the library and stake my first own little claim of independence.

According to my mom, I could read words by the age of four, and probably learned to read entire books by the age of five in kindergarten. I was one of those kids who didn’t mind being alone. In fact, I found my own company to be quite delightful. My mom was constantly trying to force me to go outside and play with the kids in the neighborhood. Not one for running around and getting cold, or hot, or sweaty or dirty, I always wanted to come back inside. Besides reading, I loved to watch television. It was the 80’s, so Cabbage Patch Kids, Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears, Rainbow Brite, and My Little Pony were all my major obsessions. I also had books that were written to cash in on the popularity of the above-mentioned 80’s staples, but I recall the stories as never being exceptionally intriguing.

When I was first grade, my teacher read Charlotte’s Web out loud to our class. I can picture myself sitting on the floor around the rocking chair, being instantly hooked. It was a like a switch suddenly flipped in me; I had to know what happened to that pig. If Wilbur died, I felt as though I might die along with him. The characters, the emotions, the drama, it was almost too much for me. As a result, when my teacher was reading, my mind was racing trying to take it all in. I was buzzing on the inside and couldn’t just sit there; I had to do something with my hands. So, I would grab hold of the garbage bag in the trash can and play with plastic, smoothing it over my thumbs until they poked holes through it. That, or I would play with the carpet, plucking staples out of it. I know it seems weird, but I just needed to be doing something because the power of that story was so overwhelming to me. Unfortunately, I had a teacher who just didn’t quite understand me and she told my mom at conferences that she didn’t think I was paying attention, when really it was quite the opposite.
...Wow, it is amazing how strongly books correlate to the sense of memory (I know they usually say it is scent most closely related to memory, but I think I am onto something here).  I feel as though I have legit just traveled back in time!!  Please stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 of my Reading Autobiography, corresponding to Late Childhood and Adolescence/Adulthood!!!

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