There are so many things I can spend my time doing rather than reading. So why do I do it? What led me to being such a voracious reader and why do I continue to make it a priority in my everyday life?
Let me start by saying that I wasn’t always a reader. My reading history has been more of a roller coaster ride with high peaks and low valleys that happened to level out over time. There were years where I didn’t read much of anything while there were others when I couldn’t be found without a book.
1st – 2nd Grade
As I attempt to retrace my steps to my earliest reading memory, I can’t believe where the path leads me. 1st Grade. St. Matthew’s Lutheran School. Milwaukee.
This memory is vague and like glimpsing through a heavy fog, but I clearly remember feeling the enjoyment of listening to my teacher, Miss Lutze, read aloud to my class.
Which book you ask?
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald! (For some reason I have “Old MacDonald had a farm…” fading in and out of this memory.)
I loved hearing about the woman in the upside-down house who spent her time magically curing all of the neighborhood kids of their bad habits. No doubt Miss Lutze was banking on the fact that we would see her as the real life Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, a woman effortlessly curing us of all our inadequacies. Looking back, I guess her plan worked because I did spend a lot of time trying to behave well for her.
The power of a well-timed story to an impressionable youth….
3rd – 4th Grade
A couple of years pass where I have little recollection of any reading. To be fair, during this time, I was more preoccupied with earning my “back of the room” privileges at the end of the day to have the same freedom many of my less academically inclined peers had obtained.
Mrs. Enter had developed a flawed system in which parent input was used to decide how much free time their kids earned at the end of each school day. She would tape a colored piece of construction paper to our desks informing us of how long we were allowed to play legos at the table in the back of the room.
A green piece of paper was ultimate freedom. These lucky kids were able to enjoy the entirety of the allotted time to play.
For me this luxury was rare.
My mom, in her infinite wisdom, held me to the highest standard. While everyone else in my class nearly always enjoyed the benefits of the green piece of paper, I was left alone in my desk staring at either the yellow or orange slip of doom.
Needless to say, I grew resentful and struggled to find my efforts in 3rd to 4th grade academia (I was typically a straight A student) as worth the pain. Instead, I simply stared into the void created by the slips of doom and the void just stared back.
5th – 7th Grade
During these years, my teacher was my step-father, Mr. Meihack. Every child’s dream. In fact, to this day I joke that I learned the same thing every year. I was more than a master of fifth grade by the time I got to eighth.
I’m not sure exactly how it went down, but, at this point in my life, books took over. Maybe I liked hiding away in my room and needed something to pass the time? It could have been an attempt to avoid organized athletics, something that nearly always showed my ineptitude. Who knows.
Whatever the reason I began with The Tower Treasure and made my way through the thrilling lives of amateur detectives, Frank and Joe Hardy. Apparently, mystery books were my thing. I devoured the box full of them that my step-dad had in the basement, and I even added more to the collection (thanks to rummage sales, Half-Price Books, and Goodwill).
I moved on to John Grisham and read through most of that collection. Being a lawyer could be interesting… I mean, if lawyers lived like the characters in these books, maybe going to law school could be a possibility? (I still enjoy the idea of being a lawyer and live vicariously through Harvey Spector and Mike Ross in the USA show Suits.)
In class, we read Banner in the Sky, a book about a young boy who aspired to summit the Citadel, an unconquered mountain that claimed the life of his father. I was terrified of heights ever since my uncle failed to catch me as promised when jumping from a tree (we needed to get that frisbee back!), but if this young boy could overcome the odds to be extraordinarily brave, maybe I could too!
This book played a huge role, along with summer family vacations, in leading me to working in Montana at Glacier National Park. Rudi Matt helped me to control– if not entirely conquer– my fear of heights so that I could summit mountain peaks of my own.
Then, I discovered the Harry Potter series. Now that was true magic!
Other than growing weary of waiting for J.K Rowling to complete the fifth installment in her series, I don’t remember what I read this year. In my boredom, I decided to bear the burden of writing the fifth Harry Potter book myself only to give up after fifty pages or so. It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t have the stamina for that kind of prolonged agony.
9th Grade: Romeo and Juliet (Yuck!), Julius Caesar (Awesome! – Et tu, Brute?), Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes (That was one pretty loyal friend!)
Thank you, Mrs. Wege, for keeping my fire stoked and reading momentum going!
10th Grade: To Kill a Mockingbird (Atticus!), GRAMMAR, A Separate Peace (Reminds me of my favorite movie The Emperor’s Club), MORE GRAMMAR, GRAMMAR, AND MORE GRAMMAR…. Thanks, Herrewig!
11th Grade: The year I refused to read because I decided to be petty and embroil myself in a yearlong battle with my English teacher. I lost. Not because I caved in and read The Scarlet Letter. I certainly didn’t do that. I lost because my pettiness led me to wasting a year in a pointless reading void. I lost big time here even if it seemed, at the time, that I was winning.
12th Grade: AP English. Hamlet, Macbeth, Crime and Punishment (10 pages of small print per day that took forever), Grapes of Wrath (Why did they do this to me!?!?!), Tess of the D’Urbervilles (Not recommended), and A Prayer for Owen Meany (this was fantastic!).
Testing myself during my senior year of high school definitely was the real push I needed to become a lifelong reader. Reading through and understanding those monsters gave me all of the confidence I needed.
College to the Present
I’ve never looked back or regretted my decision to prioritize reading in my life. Earning my bachelor degree in English was one of the most difficult and worthwhile things that I have done. Not many people can stomach reading 25 books or more per college semester while working three jobs and coaching a high school sport. It was absolutely worth every bit of time and energy spent.
Reading has taken me to places I would never have imagined. I don’t remember every book that I have ever read, but I can surely pick out the most influential books, the ones that have made me who I am today.
It’s a long list. I guess that can wait for a future post 🙂
The best part is that the more I read, the better I get at it, and the more powerful the changes become in me. Words change my life every single day, which is a pretty powerful place to be.
I know that everyone won’t read like I do, but that’s the point. All stories are different. My reading story has been a roller coaster I would gladly ride again and look forward to never finishing. I wish everyone the best in finding their life-changing books like I have mine.
I hope you pick up a book.
And then another.
And that they offer you everything.
And that you are happy with where they take you.
I know it will be a pretty worthwhile place to be. Happy Reading!