A bridge over a beautiful waterfall

A bridge over a beautiful waterfall
Nature brings magic

Sunday, September 23, 2012

How books changed my life

Books. Books changed my life. Books were what gave me my peace and my freedom.

Let me explain what I mean.

I was a very withdrawn child. I didn't enjoy playing with the neighbor kids. Frankly, they terrified me. Part of it was their habit of terrorizing the other kids in the neighborhood (never me or my siblings though...I think they were scared of my mom). Part of it was even at that very young age I was an introvert with social anxiety. In an adult this is bad enough, but as a child this was terrifying.

When I was 3, actually a few months shy of my rather memorable 4th birthday (I'll share that memory one day as it's one of my clearest pleasant memories of my childhood), I remember going up to my dad and asking him "What does this word say?" I was holding the advertisements for our local grocery store. He told me what it was and then I pointed to the picture and said "That word means this."

A whole new world was opened up to me. I started grabbing the ads out of every paper. When we went to the grocery store I would look at the signs and make sure that they matched up with what was beneath them. I was learning to read.

On my 4th birthday, I was given the greatest treasure of all: books. I didn't know how to read them yet but I was determined to do so. At first I just made up stories to go along with the pictures. But my dad sat down with me every night and pointed to the words on the page and read them to me so I understood the sounds and the marks on the page correlated with one another. Soon I was reading my books by myself.

But it wasn't enough. I wanted more.

More books came my way, inherited from when my next oldest sibling was still learning to read. I devoured them. By the time I was 5 - just one short year later - my dad tells me I'd read every child's book appropriate for my age in the house at least a dozen times. I didn't always understand the books but I'd read them.

Kindergarten came and we were taught to write our names. I thought this was a little silly because I already knew how to write my name. I could read words. I wanted to know more. I'd actually skip recess and sit in the classroom and read the books the teacher gave me. My teacher was awesome. She connected very early on that to force me to socialize was to send me into a tailspin of anxiety that made me sick. I socialized while we were together in the classroom, but when it came to recess, she let me sit and read. She gave me books for the 1st graders and let me read those. They were a little better, but I still wanted more.

Then I left kindergarten and I no longer had the ability to read during recess. So I read at every other possible moment. I was doing my assignments as fast as possible to be given the time to read before it was time to move onto a different lesson. I used to get my books taken away from me because I wanted to read rather than pay attention to my teachers.

This went on for a time, where I read every book that was recommended for my grade level and maybe a few books for the more advanced grade levels - though my teachers discouraged that saying I wouldn't understand them. Meanwhile at home my mother was using vocabulary lists to push my reading comprehension to a higher level. By third grade I understood and could put into context words from a sixth grade vocabulary list.

Then I got Mr. Murphy for fourth grade. On the first day, he threw the reading list into the trash and said that as long as we did our assignments in a timely manner and weren't so rude as to read while he was talking, he didn't care what we read. I jumped on this. I read every book in his classroom, and not all of them were at the fourth grade reading level. He even had some high school level books in there that were just begging to be read.

In fifth grade, Mrs. Johnson introduced us to the Hobbit. I read all of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings on my own in the space of a month. They were interesting but it still wasn't enough. At least when I was reading, though, my parents left me alone so I read a lot.

Then, the summer before my sixth grade year, I got my hands on Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey. That was it. I was gone. I was an immediate fan. For those of you who don't know, Anne McCaffrey was the brilliant author who wrote the books detailing the lives of the dragonriders of Pern. Ms. McCaffrey died before I could thank her for the wonderful gift she gave me. But she wasn't the only author to open my eyes to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, I could write books too.

Then came the Andre Norton books. I read a few of the Witch World books and then I moved on into others. I read the Rowan books by Ms. McCaffrey. Though I didn't understand some of the themes I knew they were good stories. My parents owned every book written by both of these authors that were available at the time (this was in 1989). I also discovered the books of Tamora Pierce at this time. I suddenly had three female authors who I adored (and possibly worshiped in a sense at that time) and who were successful writers. Most of the books I can remember reading as a young child were written by men so I didn't realize until that point that a woman could write books and be successful too.

It wasn't until I was in 8th grade that I started actually writing down some of the stories that floated in my head. I patterned them after the three women who were so heavily influencing me and came up with my very first fan fic crossover mash up. It was...horrible. But at least I was writing. I haven't stopped writing for any serious length of time since, though I've had a few dry spells over the last 23 years.

If you have never read a book by any of these women, I suggest you go to your library or to Amazon or SOMEWHERE and get their books. I can happily recommend the Alanna (Song of the Lioness Quartet) and the Daine (Wild Magic Quartet) books by Tamora Pierce. I haven't had the opportunity to read any of her other books, though my niece swears by the Keladry (Protector of the Small) books. If you want to read Anne McCaffrey you can either read Dragonflight which is the first Dragonriders of Pern book she wrote, or you can read Dragonsdawn which is a later book but actually the events predate Dragonflight as you discover the origin of the dragons. Andre Norton...just pick one. I can't recommend any specific book, though her Witch World are my favorites.

Without reading in general, my childhood would have been a lot harder than it was. I wouldn't have had my escape. Without these three women, I may never have first set pencil to paper and crafted my own words. I hope one day to meet Ms. Pierce as sadly my other two idols have passed on. I want to thank her for her gift with words and her inspiration to me.

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