Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Story of a Reader

I have a new book review all ready to go, but earlier yesterday I found out about Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, on Shannon Messenger's blog, so everyone's going to have to wait (including me). Starting next week, I'll post my Middle Grade book reviews on Mondays.

In the meantime, I thought I'd talk a little about myself as a reader. I was the kid in elementary school who never knew what was going on in class. It was during the fourth grade that I fine-tuned my strategy and began sitting cross-legged in my seat, my binder and textbook on the desktop and a novel in my lap. If someone said my name (three or four times) I'd look up and attempt competence, but for the most part I was about as attentive as Calvin was in Miss Wormwood's class.

Okay, so I usually knew what subject we were on. But I bumped into plenty of things (usually walls or people), because I rarely put my book down. When I was forced to close it (like at the breakfast table), I substituted whatever was handy and continued reading. (Note: the back of the Cheerios box gets boring after a few days. It may very well be impossible to get through the jumbo-sized boxes fast enough to keep your brain from going numb. Even if you add bananas and keep refilling the bowl with cereal, then an attempt to finish both at the same time.) The walk to school was an opportunity to read in peace as long as I glanced up every few paragraphs and before I crossed the street. At night, after my sister was asleep, I'd duck my head under the covers and read by flashlight. Night after night, my parents pulled the still-blazing light from my hand, marked my place in the book, and laid them beside my backpack on the desk.

Over thirty years later, nothing has changed. I still take a book with me everywhere, and I often read on my Kindle. I love having a virtual library in my purse, but there's nothing like burrowing deep into the blankets with a book bent back upon itself just shy of the spine-cracking point. Yes, I do still fall asleep reading almost every night, only now it's my husband who slides the bookmark into place and clicks off my reading lamp.

I continue to read adolescent literature because it's alive in a way that little else is. Don't misunderstand: I enjoy grown-up material as well, both contemporary and classic. I stayed up all night one January 1st reading Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone. (I spent the next day at Magic Mountain with my future husband, where we rode Superman five times in a row until they closed it due to rain. Best January 2nd ever.) Kids, are deep in the trenches that most of us would never again dare to enter. They're artists, shaping and molding themselves like clay figures, and the process is intense and desperate. Reading adolescent literature is like peeking into the kiln, hoping that none of them crack. But even when they do--because none of us escape without a few fissures--the end result is inspiring.

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