I was on the phone with my mom the other day talking about my book haul from the library’s used book and plant sale (used books, not plants…. Well some of the plants were used I guess). My mom made the comment that she doesn’t read like my sister and I do; it makes her sleepy. This is the life of a book lover; we start a book and stay up all night to finish it when we simply can’t put it down.
Reading makes me sleepy sometimes, but if the book is just TOO GOOD then I push past the sleepy and end up pulling an all-nighter.
I laughed and told my mom the key was to not read at bedtime… or do read at bedtime if you want to fall asleep quickly. That’s backfired on me a few times though. The book (or Kindle) would eventually fall square on my face if I didn’t have the good sense to put it down before I dozed off.
My dad isn’t much of a reader (that I really know of, maybe he’s a closet reader), and I know my mom isn’t. I asked, “How am I even your child?” If my mom doesn’t love to read like my sister and I do, and my dad doesn’t either – then how are we related to these people? I don’t think 23andMe can answer this one.
Nature vs. Nurture the Book Lover Way
With confidence as sure as knowing her name, my mother replied, “My mother.” She told me about summers they would go to the lake or the beach and instead of laying in the sun, my grandmother put down her blanket under the shade of a tree and lay down and read.
I could envision that. My grandmother was a smoker and many, many times I’d watch her; cigarette in hand, a book, magazine, or newspaper in front of her; the ash trail slowly growing longer till we would have to say, “Are you smoking it or burning it?” She could get so engrossed in the words on the paper in front of her, she’d forget what was going on around her.
My mom was right. My grandmother, or mama (pronounced “Ma” as in “ma’am”, and “Muh”. Mama), was the book lover in our family. She didn’t go anywhere without a book or three. Romance, mystery, you name it and mama read it.
Mama would take me to the library or Bookseller, a popular used book and video store, and we’d browse books for hours. She would always finish browsing before me but never rushed me. She would sometimes go to the car or would sit quietly in a chair in the “young adult” section of the library and patiently wait while I scanned shelves or read book jackets. When I found one that I liked, I’d read the first page or three and then show her to get her opinion.
“That looks like a good one,” she’d almost always tell me.
We almost always left with more books than we could carry. Okay, maybe that was just me, but I remember full arms and an eagerness to get in the car so I could start reading. Without ever saying it or telling me, mama was instilling in me the knowledge that a good book would be the best way for me to escape some of the hardest days I’d yet to have.
Reader Turned Writer
When I was 14 my parents divorced. Even when I made the decision to move out of my mom’s and into my dad’s house, she picked me up for library and bookstore trips. She encouraged me to read outside of my comfort zone; mysteries, thrillers, romance, and magazines filled with short stories.
That’s when I knew I wanted to write the kinds of stories that were in the magazines she read. They always had informational articles but tucked in the back would be a short story or excerpt from a new author’s book and that’s where I would turn first. When my high school launched a creative magazine filled with art, poetry, and short stories by students, I contributed and saw my first byline.
Throughout elementary and middle school, I read at a higher grade level than most of my friends. When they were still reading Junie B. Jones, I was digging into Are You There God It’s Me, Margaret? or Fifteen. I think all of the credit for my love of books has to go to mama; she was a book lover’s fairy godmother.
In my junior year of high school, we read To Kill a Mockingbird. Mama read it right along with me. We discussed the book’s themes, such as racism. She taught me that racism has no place in our world and we weren’t born to hate. During my high school years, we discussed every book I was required to read; Romeo and Juliet, The Scarlet Letter, The Crucible. Nearly every book memory I have has my grandmother etched in it.
At 16 I read my first Danielle Steel novel. We analyzed it together and I confirmed what I had thought, Ms. Steel was not for me. Neither was Stephen King but she loved them both and we could talk books until we’d gone over every plot point and the possible endings that could’ve, would’ve been better.
Making Time for Books
As my kids were growing up library trips were a regular thing. I’m thankful that of my four kids, at least two of them inherited that love of reading. Without a doubt, my daughter reads more than my boys. Maybe it’s a girl thing, I don’t know but I love that I can take her into a used bookstore (or any bookstore really) and she can spend almost as long as I can browsing the shelves.
I don’t read as often as I once used to. Life, work, kids; you know the drill. Whenever I see one of my children zoning out on youtube or Xbox instead of getting lost in a book, it makes me a little sad. They have so many different ways to read now. Faster than flipping on a light they could close youtube and begin a new book on their tablet or pop in earbuds and lose their hearing to Stephen King’s newest instead of rap metal.
In an effort to change my
hopefully-not-to-set-in my ways, I’ve gone back to reading before bed and it’s a pre-New Year’s resolution of mine to read in the morning before I begin working. It’s not just a way to stay in love with my books but it’s a way to make time for myself; time that’s productive and feeds my soul.
Reading into the Future
Today my favorite authors are Jodi Picoult and Anne Tyler. These two authors weave stories that draw you in and make you feel like you’re the main character.
But I also hold a special place for new authors. Their courage to put pen to paper inspires me to do the same. New authors that intertwine beautiful and tragic stories with painfully flawed and cherished characters make me an instant fan.
Mama has long passed; 24 years coming up in January. Whenever I wander into a used bookstore, book sale, or a garage sale with books, I always think of her. I love the smell of old books. I like to think that when I inhale that deep, musty, worn page smell that she’s standing there with me, helping me choose my next great read.
If she were here now, mama would be fascinated by how we read today. She’d still be partial to books over e-readers and tablets but she’d love having the option of carrying her entire library in the palms of her hands nonetheless.
Am I showing my age? I meant to do that. Perhaps someday technology will break down just a little and Youtube and Snapchat will cease to exist. I know, a crazy dream, right? Well, that’s what we readers do and I hope we never stop.