I started reading and speaking at about the same time. Letters and words read to me by adults became a magical fixation. Entranced by their power, at the age of one and a half, I was determined to harness the pictures for the words that adults used.
The books had pictures and were made of cardboard. The best audio books came with cassette tapes and had a voice or beep that told you when to turn the page, allowing me to more easily follow along. Goodnight Moon was one of my favorites. I’d listen to the words, following along in my book.
Listen to a book, follow along, rewind, repeat. Over and over, memorizing the words. Each word a little picture. I was reading but not phonetically. Deciphering the code, little by little. I started with easy words like dog, cat, and god (sometimes mixing up dog & god).
To entertain myself in the car I would read and call out the letters and words on street signs. On one road trip just before my second birthday, as my mother reviewed directions on a large paper map, I suddenly became VERY excited and thrust my tiny finger enthusiastically onto the map. “Ping-Pong! Ping Pong!” I exclaimed, pointing to the small town of Ding-Dong, Texas.
Earlier in the day, I’d been watching Beanie & Cecil. In the episode, they had sailed to the island of “Ping-Pong” and shown the location on a map. I was very excited when I thought I’d found it.
Reading came easy for me and had a head start on the other kids when I started Pre-K. Unfortunately, by the time I got to first grade, I hit my first roadblock. Reading aloud, something I still avoid as much as possible.
We sat in a circle, textbooks open. “As we go around the room, everyone will read a paragraph. We will go around the circle until we finish the story.” My memory of that day is still remarkably clear. I will always be able to replay those events in my head.
I remember the teacher’s anger when I didn’t read my paragraph. I remember reading the words in my mind, screaming the words in my head, then begging the words to come out of my mouth. Nothing. I knew the words but couldn’t say them. I remember being sent out of class for refusing to participate in the activity and I remember being ashamed.
In middle school reading was a solitary activity, allowing me to dig myself deep into the elaborate universes of Anne Rice, Bram Stoker, & Stephen King. In the eighth grade I devoured Interview With a Vampire, Dracula, and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.
Throughout high school, I worked on writing. Listening to my favorite authors, making note of the writing styles and story patterns. Creating edgy teen vampire fiction, printed from an old Windows 95 computer. I placed the stories into brad folders before passing them along to my classmates.
As I’ve grown and changed, my love of reading has evolved. As a girl, I’d escape into fiction. In my late twenties, I started to find more value and joy in the accumulation of facts. There are still vivid pictures in my mind when I read, but now I’m visualizing real concepts, like human digestion and brain function.
It’s fun to reflect back on my history of reading. To think that it all started on the laps of adults who cared enough to read to me, even before I could speak. How could my life have been different had I not received this type of encouragement? What would have happened if the people around me had cared less?
Many of my earliest memories involve books. I will always be grateful for those who nurtured my love of reading.