Learning to Read: Musing Monday

For my first Musing Monday, I would have liked to have written something new, but I covered this topic a couple of years ago at my other place, so here it is, slightly edited.  The topic is: Do you remember how you developed a love for reading? Was it from a particular person, or person(s)? Do you remember any books that you read, or were read to  you, as a young child? My answer:

On my fourth birthday, my aunt gave me the perfect present.  I have had thirty-five birthdays, and no present has yet outstripped what my aunt gave me the year I turned four (unless you count Zachary, who was born three weeks before my thirty-first birthday or Lilah, born two days before my thirty-fifth). 

The year I turned four, my aunt called to ask what I wanted for my birthday.  My answer was swift and certain.  “Dorothy.”  Then, my sister got on the phone to translate.  A few weeks later, it arrived.  It was faux leather-bound with gold leaf.  Throughout the text, there were color illustrations, the bold yellow of the brick road and the intense red of the poppies only slightly less enchanting than that dress on Glinda. 

Oh, the dress on Glinda.

I wanted it read to me all the time.  Anyone who had advanced beyond a rudimentary understanding of the alphabet was conscripted to sound out a chapter or two.  Over and over, until, within a month or two, I had pretty much memorized the entire book.  I suppose I had probably already begun to read, but I clearly remember pairing the words I knew in my head with the words I saw on the page and so learning to read from The Wizard of Oz

Once I could read, things got a little crazy.  Books, magazines, newspapers, words I did not understand, concepts I could not process.  Shampoo bottles, delivery trucks, billboards.  I was addicted, and there were fixes everywhere.

It was just in the nick of time.  A year later, my father remarried.  My stepmother took over the household, and I read.  She started hitting us, and I read.  She starved us; I read.  She took away my clothes, our food, our father; I read.  When the leisure time disappeared, I read at school or while dusting the books. 

Through the step-mother years, I let myself go with Beverly Cleary.  Through the years with my grandparents, with Judy Blume and Isaac Bashevis Singer.  Through the Aunt years, with Tennessee Williams, Jane Austin, Douglas Adams, Sidney Sheldon, and Margaret Mitchell.  Through flight delays, bad boyfriends, skipped classes, social failures.  Waiting for the fry cook to get my order up, sitting in waiting rooms, dripping with sweat on the elliptical.  Through Octavia Butler, James Baldwin, Wendy Wasserstein, Paula Vogel, and one short fling with James Joyce (long book, short fling).  Through fertility treatment, pregnancy, breastfeeding.

Reading is portable, good for the soul, and as cheap as a library card, but it is bad for the eyes. Every year, my prescription got worse, till the optometrist had to call in reinforcements each time I lost a contact lens.  I couldn’t see my own feet in the shower, but I was sure ready for the verbal section on all those standardized tests.

My children, too, seem to have learned there is incredible comfort in books.  One day, I left toddler Benjamin along in the living room.  After a few minutes, I got a little nervous, because there was no banging, shouting, or squealing going on.  I peeked my head back in.  My little 14 month old was sitting in the middle of the floor with “Quack Quack,” a book he adored due to his waterfowl obsession.  He had it open to the page with the sheep and was reading it to himself.  “Baaaaah,” he said softly.

I quietly backed out of the room.  No one likes to be disturbed in the middle of a good book.


14 responses to “Learning to Read: Musing Monday

  1. This was a very moving post, thank you for sharing it with us all. How wonderful that your love of reading was a welcome companion through not only the good times but the bad as well.

  2. uncertainprinciples

    I couldn’t agree with you more, on the last line of your post! And the faux-leather-bound bound version of Wizard of Oz must have been a great way to get into books.

    Thanks for sharing this – re-asserts how amazing the world of books is.

  3. Love your post. Its my first time to join Musing Mondays too and the topic couldn’t have been any better. My greatest gifts were always books. Anytime, feel free to give me one. 🙂 Happy Monday!

  4. What a beautifully written post about such an ugly past. The wonders of books is that they can truly save people. I love Wizard of Oz, the movie, but I’ve never actually read the book! It’s on my TBR list. Your son sounds adorable and it must have been thrilling to see him reading to himself.

  5. That was a wonderful post, and a wonderful reminder of the power of books in all of life’s situations.

  6. yes, what a wonderful post!
    it all goes full circle…the wonderful world of books.

  7. Very inspiring post.Thanks for sharing.

  8. How much do I love your kids?

    Answer: A lot.

    This is a lovely, lovely image you’ve built. As always. I can practically hear that little “bahhh”.

  9. OK, OK, I forgot to respond to the topic.

    The first book I fell in love with was “Green Eggs and Ham”. I forced anyone with lips to read it over and over until I could recite it.

    Curious George took over shortly afterward, and I moved on through Walter Farley, Marguerite Henry, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, and never stopped.

    My local library just opened, a block from the house, and I had the supreme pleasure of seeing my little tasmanian devil sitting quietly beside a bookshelf, one of his two coveted Thomas books he’d chosen on his lap, talking quietly to himself about what was going on in the pictures.

    I have high hopes that he will come to love the words as much as I do.

  10. Is it silly that I WANT a leather-bound, gold-leafed copy of “The Wizard of Oz” now? A LOT. I want it A LOT.

    When I was little, I had Disney princess stories: Snow White, Cinderella, etc. My mom read them to me ALL THE TIME, and I can still recite the first 3 pages of the Snow White book from memory. I learned to read on those books – I was 2 when my mother realized that I could read well, so we’re not really sure WHEN I started.

    I still have those books. That and the unabridged copy of “Heidi” that belonged to my mother, given to her by HER grandmother. That was my first “big girl” book (i.e., a thick book), and I read it over and over the year I started kindergarten.

    Oh, now I want to go home and dig out all my books and hug them! (Yeah, I know that sounds weird. Oh, well.)

  11. I’m so glad you got that book before the shit hit the fan. For me it was fairy tales. Good and evil and the hope of a magical solution because as a child, it was obvious that there was no realistic one. Myth also gave me a way to express myself because I couldn’t say anything real about what was going on in my life. And so I played make believe where evil-doers could be outwitted with the help of magic and magical helpers.

  12. I didn’t have anything to hide from, but still loved books. I was reading before kindergarten, at least that is what I was told. I don’t really remember learning, I feel like I always knew that words and books were my best friends.

  13. I loved books from day 1 and would bring them to my mom at all hours and demand them to be read. At 2 I had some memorized and would recite them as I followed along with the text, convincing my moms’ friends that I could read. Later in the awkward years of getting dumped by friends in lower school, reading was my refuge.

    Thanks for sharing this post. It reminds me to make time to read. I enjoy reading so much but don’t always reserve the time to do it.

  14. I wonder how many children regulated their emotional life with reading? It was the place where I could find alternatives to the hysteria and apathy that generally surrounded me. Beautifully written story, Emily.

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