A Memory

I have recently been reading a great deal of books on writing. One of the most interesting things that struck me was the advice to read books that are similar to what you are writing. And even beyond that, read voraciously. The ever snarky part of my brain piped up with, “No sh*t Sherlock.” It is perfectly obvious that as a writer, one should always be reading. But then I suppose the writer of this book intended to cover all his bases and make sure that everyone knew this as well. I read to excess and exceptionally fast. It is easy for me to blast through a 300 page book in 3 or 4 hours. People are always amazed at how fast I read and yet manage to comprehend and remember everything I read. This is always the point where I look at them and tell them “Well, to be honest, I have had a great deal of practice.”

As a kid, I lived in a house where TV was not considered an important thing. Not to mention we lived so far out in the country we had a grand total of 6 channels, and 2 of them were frequently static-y or down if it was cloudy. My parents didn’t see the value in buying movies, so I probably had about 10-12 VHS tapes of various kinds, mostly Star Wars and Disney. But books were a different story. $6 for a paperback book that I could read over and over again was considered a frugal bargain and as such I quickly discovered that while I could never convince my mother to buy a movie or toy, I could always convince her to buy a book. Add this mentality to the fact that as a high school student I often stayed after school for drill team practice or band practice, after which I would walk to the public library, to have somewhere safe to do my homework, and they sold old books for 10 cents a piece and you have all the makings for a girl with her nose in a book most of the time.

The real point at which I became so enamored of reading and by it’s extension writing my own stories down was in the 4th grade. I remember the event quite well because it was one of the first points in my life I felt real frustration and excitement. Every week or so our well meaning teacher would take us to the library in our elementary school. Here she would attempt to teach us about research, decimal systems, and the value of reading. We would do our best to ignore her and hope to get on to the end of the day. In an attempt to convert us, she required us to check out a book every time we went to the library. The first day she instituted this policy many of us were quite annoyed, but dutifully searched the shelves for anything we might want to check out. Several students took the easy route and checked out something they had read. We were, after all, mildly intelligent and it was easy to see this spawning book report assignments.

I wandered down a shelf of books reading titles, not really interested in anything. I didn’t particularly like reading “grown-up” books, i.e. books not written by Seuss. Near the end of the row I sat down and started pulling out books to look at their covers. My mother always said “Never judge a book by it’s cover.” But I had nothing else to judge it by, so I judged away. I found one book with this rather nifty looking image of a wolf on the front. The Grey King by Susan Cooper. Sounded good enough for me to check out and tote around with me until we had to return it.

Ever the normal child I carried the book around, but didn’t actually read a word of it. To avoid the search for a new book, I continued to check it out over and over again. I can only assume the teacher believed me to be a slow reader, or the book to be a bit out of my vocabulary range. Then the unthinkable happened. For whatever reason we had downtime, despite trying I cannot remember what is was we were doing. We weren’t allowed to get up, or even to doodle or whatever. All we could do was read a book in between the something or other. So I pulled out my library book and read it pages for something to do other than stare at the same walls.

Imagine my surprise when the book was quite interesting. I became immersed in the world and deeply interested in what happened. However, before I could finish the book we were back in the library. With a far more suspicious teacher. She insisted that if we had checked out a book 2 or more times we could not check it out again. I was only a part of the way through The Grey King and had checked it out 6 times. It never occurred to me at the time to lie or even to go home and ask my mom to buy the book for me. All I knew was I *had* to keep the book and take it home that day. So I went up to the teacher and told her the truth. Yes, I had just picked a book randomly from the shelf. No, I had not been reading it. But I had started and it was pretty good so far. I wasn’t done and couldn’t I please just have it for one more week so I could finish it. I promise I will turn it in next week. Perhaps in her infinite wisdom she realize that this was indeed a turning point for me. Perhaps she hoped maybe even one good book would make a difference. Maybe she was so surprised I told the complete truth. If she remembered the event, I would certainly ask her now. Regardless, she acquiesced and let me check the book out one more time.

The Grey King was exceptional. At least to me. I thought it was the most wonderful book with a fascinating story, characters, and ending. I returned the book the next week, having finished it over the weekend. I immediately went back to that section of the shelves and touched the spine of what was now my favorite book. Though to be fair, it had no competition. In my childish mind, this was the section to pick another book from for the next week because clearly the shelves had given me such a wondrous treasure before. Next to it on the shelf was a book called The Dark is Rising. Sounds good to me, I thought and checked it out.

I wish I could say I was observant enough to notice the author’s name was the same. I wish I could say I was observant enough to notice the small print on the cover of The Grey King that plainly marked it as a series. But I didn’t. Imagine my surprise when the new book I had checked out was about the same characters! But it told the story of what happened before! How exciting for a 9 year old! It took less than a week for me to finish The Dark is Rising. Far wiser, I returned to the section and with a bit of assistance figured out it was a series of five books. Suddenly the librarian had to deal with a girl who previously had checked out the same book for 6 weeks just for show wanting to check out THREE books at once. The limit on checkouts was 2 at time. Bless her reading heart, she bent said rules and let me take home Over Sea, Under Stone; Greenwitch; and Silver on the Tree.

This was my snowflake. This was the tipping point. It lead to Coville, Keene, Lewis, Alexander, Raskin, Bradbury, and so many more. A snowflake that became a snowball that became an avalanche. For years I known for reading books every chance I got. At the dinner table, in the car, sitting at home, in class… In fact, by sixth grade I was so known for reading when I should have been paying attention I was the only person *not* allowed to have books at my desk.

Leave a Reply