Reading came easily to me in the first grade on an Army base in Italy. But I didn’t experience reading for pleasure until the summer I turned ten.
The Dade County (Florida) public library system had finally provided a real public library in the shopping mall for its bookmobile patrons, and I remember going in every Saturday morning, scouring the shelves for interesting fiction and going to the checkout area with my stack of 4-5 books.
I read propped up in my favorite tree, on the porch roof, on my bed, and reclined on one of our matching couches. I read a LOT.
That was the summer after my parents’ divorce became official. Reading was my escape.
It continued to be my escape as I read classics, also checked out from the public library in Austin, Texas all through my 20s.
One consistency, throughout all my years of reading, has been my love of the YA section. If reading is my escape, I don’t necessarily want to only read dark, gritty works that leave me feeling disturbed. Young adult fiction provides a nice selection of interesting books without many of the harsher elements found in adult works.
I see, feel and read about the reality of our world every day as a Twitter addict and news junkie. Again, reading is an escape for me. I am unapologetic about that.
I am drawn to fiction written for adults with dark themes such as murder, kidnapping and crime. I love stories with strong female protagonists struggling against oppression or difficulty. I despise romances.
After reading nonfiction and fiction written for adults for a few months, I will take a break and dive into some YA fiction for a time to decompress. It helps me find my happy place.
I love words. I love thoughts and ideas elegantly expressed in beautiful, well-written prose. I love an exciting story filled with characters that bring me along for the ride as long as they have substance. I don’t like too much fluff (literary junk food, as I call it).
I also love poetry written by women, and some men, who have suffered (another whole blog post).
This leads me to one of my prejudices: I prefer women authors to men because I do not believe a man can truly know what it means to be a girl or woman. I admit to this prejudice. I own it.
And so as I finish up the Harry Potter series of books today, I look for my next series of detective stories, murder mysteries, or fantasies, the kind not filled with profanity and graphic sex (I have to be in the mood for those kinds of books, and do read them, just not when I am reading to escape life’s dark times).
I will read nonfiction books about nature, wildflowers, permaculture, gardening, cooking, home renovation, Texas and other parts of the U.S. I will continue to spend hours each day reading news and articles about our world. And when I become disheartened, I will pick up a work of fiction or book of poetry and escape for a time until my soul quiets.
The first night my four-year-old granddaughter was here for a visit, I pulled out this huge tome of poetry with the goal of reading her to sleep. Laying in the special inflatable bed I bought for her when she was a baby (looks like a life raft), snug beneath a sherpa-lined blanket with her sweet-smelling long-blonde hair spread out on her brand new pillow and pillowcase, she was wiggly to say the least.
I held the heavy book beneath a desk lamp perched on the edge of my 20-year-old son’s desk (he gave up his room to his older sister and niece) and looked for poems that had funny themes and lots of onomatopoeias. I easily found one that set Charlotte giggling.
Each time she would try to sit up, I would stop reading and tell her I will continue when her head is on her pillow. She loved the poems so much that she willingly complied.
When she asked to see the pictures, I told her she had to make them in her head.
In less than 10 minutes, little Charlotte was asleep.
When I returned to the living room with this news, my daughter said she had never gone to sleep that easily in her life. Well, I did attribute it to a day spent in airports and on airplanes, but she loved hearing the poetry Grandma was reading to her from the “red book.”
When I think about girls in some cultures being kept from getting an education because of male dominance and/or religious doctrine, I see red. Every girl deserves an education, but most of all, each one should experience the joys of being able to read about a world beyond her own, and to escape her culture and reality when she wants. Girls have it quite hard in many parts of the world. We Americans often forget that.
I will make sure my granddaughter learns to read well and is surrounded by literature even if I have to teach her to read myself (one of my superpowers, by the way).
And so I read because it gives me great pleasure and helps me escape the harsh realities of life. It is certainly one of my favorite things.