When the bookmobile pulled into the parking lot of my Hebrew day school in 1975, the reading gods must have been looking down on me. For some reason, I bought a copy of Judy Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”. This is the first book I remember reading for pleasure and I can not imagine surviving the next few decades without books. I just pulled my old copy off my bookshelf and I can see why my 2nd grade self was drawn to it. It’s a purple cover with a blonde girl on the cover, looking right at me.
Now I realize this is a total cliche. And when I say I’m a reader and it is a huge part of my life, I’m not being flip. Books have been my hiding place, my enjoyment, my connection to other people and my only source of pride. The game where you say what you most perfect day would be – adirondack chair on a beach with a good novel, chair and beach optional.
I read a lot after the Judy Blume epiphany. Her books and lots others. Most I don’t remember although I do recall a long “Death Be Not Proud” stage when every book had a tragically dying character. Reading “The Fault In Our Stars” recently, I thought that I would have loved it during that phase even more than I did as an adult.
I know I missed a lot of classic children and young adult literature somehow but always assumed I’d have a second chance to read them with my own children. Again the reading gods laughed. None of my three kids are readers and it turns out that I hate to read out loud. Chicken and egg situation, right? Or to put it in literary terms, Catch 22.
I have read through all the stages of my life since 2nd grade. I remember the giddy feeling after school ended each year that I could finally read as much as I wanted, whatever I wanted. I remember the years I commuted to work by public transportation and had two hours every day of glorious reading time. I cried so hard reading the end of “Bastard Out of Carolina” that I couldn’t breathe and worried that someone might pull the emergency stop. The only time I ever missed my stop was reading a totally cheesy Star Trek novel. There, my deepest confession.
When my younger brother came out of the closet to my parents they did exactly what made sense. They went to the public library and got out books dealing with having a gay child. Books. They answer your questions, they haunt you, and the best ones make you laugh and cry on the same page. “An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination” is my favorite example of this. To be able to write like that, it’s miraculous.
When I went on maternity leave with my first baby, I was sure the next three months would be filled with gauzy scenes of nursing him while reading Middlemarch and other classics I had been meaning to get to. I mean reading was the biggest part of my life. Now that I was going to be a mother, of course it would be a huge part of that too. Let’s just say that watching Dawson’s Creek reruns was about all I could manage. And I never went back to work. And I still haven’t read Middlemarch. And it took a while to have the mental energy to read much. But unlike the worries about weight gain, never working again, never finding friends, losing my whole world – I knew books would never leave me. They’d wait patiently on my bookshelf and be there for me.
Books have saved me. I firmly believe that. But when my oldest, 11 year old, recently asked me why I like reading so much. A much repeated discussion where I beg him to love reading and he thinks I’m crazy. Honestly, I couldn’t explain it. Getting lost in a wonderful book absorbs me and takes away pain. Like drugs without the side effects. Like eating without the weight gain. Like exercise without the knee replacement surgery.
P.S. – I wrote this in hopes that Book Riot would want me to blog for them. They didn’t. And now I just read a very similar post on there. Alas.
P.P.S. – Judy Blume, to read her new adult novel and risk ruining the wonderful childhood memory or skip it? Thoughts?