The one thing that I could not live without in this world is reading. I love reading so much its pathetic. Sometimes my husband will walk into the living room with me engrossed in a book and it takes THREE times saying my name to garner my attention.
It’s because books are magical. That is a fact. Sometimes when I see someone starting a book I’ve read already, I get this feeling like, “wow I wish I was reading these all for the first time.” It started when I was very young. My dad would leave picture books for me to find as I sat like a lazy lump because I refused to crawl. I loved them.
I remember bringing out the giant antique dictionaries we had and telling my babysitter that I could read them super fast in my head. She didn’t believe me and insisted I read it out loud which I did –a little slow. Whatever- victory!
The only time that I recall reading ever getting me in trouble was when my cool older cousin *Mary (*names changed to protect the innocent) came to stay with us for the summer. I think I was nine or ten and she was entering 20’s. Needless to say, I obviously thought she was the coolest person EVER. I wanted her to hang out with me CONSTANTLY.
Surprisingly, a hip 20-year-old and a tomboyish 8-year-old have little in common. I remember begging her to take me with her and her cool friends to see “Village of the Damned” the one about those evil kids that control thoughts? Yeah, she said no. Shocking. I saw her leave, her long hair flowing behind her and remembered thinking, “Man, I wonder what it’s like being her.”
So one day with Mary in the shower, I figured I had my chance to see what she was all about. Years of learning about mysteries from my dad had taught me tricks about being sleuth-like. Unfortunately staying at the scene of the crime we apparently hadn’t been gone over yet.
Yep, I found her diary. And I was enthralled.
So enthralled that I didn’t hear her return from her shower.
I have never been so quick in my life, I threw the diary up in the air, muttered sorry as I streamed past an irate Mary and never looked back.
Now, as you are probably aware finding a great book brings me a certain level of joy. Going into Powell’s Book store in Portland, OR changed my life for the better. I remember being so excited at this massive new and used book store that I threw up in my mouth a little. Every once in a while I have a series or a specific book I want and Powell’s usually has them or a good substitute. You guys, they have a Horror: Short Fiction SECTION. Like, a giant bookshelf. So great.
This year is the 80’s/90’s series “The Year’s Best Horror Stories” edited by Karl Wagner. EVERY time I go into a book store I look for them. Having a new one of those in my hands is something akin to pure anticipatory joy. The best thing about books is that I have been able to find new and exciting books that usually live up to my expectations.
So little in my real life lives up to its expectations that a good book really changes my worldview.
I remember the first time ordering a brand new book though- through the Scholastic book program. (I think it was Scholastic but it may have been something similar) They brought flyers to our classes with photos of the book titles and a short description beside it.
I looked through them all a million times, but the one that I kept coming back to was “The Haunted Underwear” by Janet Bloss. And the summary was something like this:
When underwear start showing up all over the house in weird places, Kelly thinks it is the dumb tricks of her brother. But all she knows for sure it what she sees – is her brother to blame or is this a case of… Haunted Underwear?
You don’t need to be a genius to know I wanted this book.
You also have to know that money was not something we tossed around at my house. I didn’t have an allowance; I didn’t get money for good grades. I would ask my parents for something and was usually greeted with a, “Sorry, no.” and I would shrug my shoulders and have to be okay with it.
So when I brought home that Scholastic form home, I knew I needed to be aggressive.
And my parents shocked me.
It was happening. My parents said yes – My father was so big on my reading that he was willing to put out the cash to get me a brand new book. “You can never have enough good food or good books” he used to say. My belly and love for reading is a daily reminder that I live by this adage to this day.
My very own new book. And I knew exactly which book I wanted! The Haunted Underwear. My mom definitely tried to talk me out of it a few times and suggested books with fewer possessed undergarments but I could not be swayed. And so the order was placed and I waited until the blessed day it arrived, covered in clear wrap and waiting to be read.
It was the best book my grade 2 self ever read. And it showed me the magic of reading, of having a plot twist, of a mystery needing to be solved. I was in the second grade, and I remembered everything about that book when I described it to my husband last night. That’s saying something.
And books have the amazing ability to have a character that you connect with. For me it was Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye (a cliché I know) when I was 15 years old. But when I was twelve, I decided that I was tired of my humdrum life. I wanted adventure. This is partly to blame from books. I specifically wanted to sneak in and stay overnight in The Metropolitan Museum of Art like Claudia in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
Also I was full of teen angst and thought my parents were lame. So I gathered my friends and hatched a plan.
A little while later I was in my room, considering what I would pack for my long trip when my dad knocked on my door. He held out a small book.
I remember thinking, “He knows.”
And looking into my dad’s non-angry, non-judgmental face and broke down and told him everything. He said he knew and that books sometimes reach children in ways that parents sometimes couldn’t. And so we talked forever about what was bothering me and why I wanted to run away. He told me about all the runaways he came into contact with since he was a cop. We talked about safety and how he knew how I felt but that he wanted to keep me safe as long as he could.
I didn’t even have to read the book, the lesson had been learned. I would always have someone to talk to that wouldn’t judge me but would try to show me different points of view. He always did that.
Reading is magical. Start early with your kids. If you like reading silly books – KEEP reading them! If you like YA fiction and you’re 50 – who CARES?! You’re reading! You are transporting yourself to another world and expanding your mind. There is nothing wrong with that.
This blog entry is dedicated to my amazing Dad; Jim Szekeres.
The man who showed me the magic of reading.
Happy Early Father’s Day.
I miss you tons.