Reading Roots: Ashley of Books from Bleh to Basically Amazing

Posted weekly on Tuesdays, Reading Roots features a variety of book bloggers talking about their early reading influences and experiences, letting us catch a glimpse of the “roots” that each person has built upon in forming their identity as “a reader”.

Today, I’m interviewing Ashley from Books from Bleh to Basically Amazing. Let’s explore her reading roots!

What is your earliest memory involving books or reading? How were books, reading, and literacy approached in your childhood home? Were your parents or other family members “readers”?

My very earliest memories aren’t actually memories. They are stories that I ‘remember’ because I’ve heard them so many times. But, I can visualize them, and I’m not sure which memory is my earliest, so I’ll share my story memory.

I had trouble falling asleep as a toddler, and my parents were getting frustrated at the number of times I would get out of bed each night. I loved looking through books during the day, so they gave me a stack of books each night, and told me I could ‘read’ as long as I wanted, as long as I stayed quiet and in bed. My mom said that there were nights I’d fall asleep almost immediately, and other nights where I would spend hours looking through book after book. I wish I remembered that for real, but I was 2. 🙂

As I believe this story illustrates, books were a big part of my house. My parents read to us regularly, encouraged us to read or look at books at every opportunity, and often gave us our own books for Christmas and Birthdays. My parents are both regular readers, and we have shelves and shelves of books in my house, for all age groups and of all genres.

Did you enjoy language arts/English classes as a kid, or were you more of a reluctant reader? When did you first consider yourself “a reader”?

I absolutely loved English. It was always my favorite subject in school, and one that I excelled in. I have never, even been considered a reluctant reader. Although growing up I loved ‘reading’ and touching my books, I didn’t learn how to really read until first grade. Right after Kindergarten, my family moved from Idaho to Washington, which meant I was starting a new school, in a new state, and I didn’t know anyone. And, I was terrified, horrified and embarrased, because…. I didn’t know how to read.  I just knew that everyone else in the entire school knew how to read already and I would be the only one left out. I cried on the way to first grade, the only time I have ever been anxious about school, because I didn’t want to face that. I begged my mom not to make me go until I could learn how to read. But, being the wise mother that she is, she made me go, promising that things wouldn’t be so bad, and that I wouldn’t be the only one learning how to read. She was right of course. I went into school mid-September not knowing how to read, and right before Christmas break in December, I carried a note from my teacher home to my mom. My teacher told my mom that I had learned to read so well, that I was too advanced for classroom reading. I read so quickly during read-a-loud time that the other kids had a hard time following along. (Not gonna lie, pretty sure some (a lot) of that was me just showing off). So, telling my mother that I read to quickly, she asked if my parents would give their permission for me to be moved up into the second grade reading class. I was so proud of that note. I carried it home to my mom to display my hard work and great reading skills, and I knew that I was going to be a reader for life. That reading was what I did. No lie, that note changed my life. My mom kept it too. 

Did you have any interesting reading habits when you were growing up? Do you still have them now?

I don’t know if this is what you are looking for, but as far as interesting reading habits go, I just read. A lot. And all the time. But, my favorite time of day to read is a night. I’ve always been a night person. There’s just something special about it, and it feels like time can stand still for you. That’s the best time to get caught up in the written creation of someone else’s imagination, because it’s easier for it to creep into my imagination as well.

But, growing up, I had a bed time. And for some strange reason, my parents kind of thought that I should stick to it. (Weird) But, I was never ready to go to bed when they sent me in, and I found a lot of creative ways to get around that. At first, I took a flashlight from the camping equipment. My mom saw the light under the door, took it away and I got in trouble. When she had forgotten about it, I grabbed another flashlight, put two blankets over me hear (one wasn’t enough to keep the light under control) and read all the flashlights dead. (And, in a family of 6 kids who camped regularly, that’s a lot of flashlights.) I couldn’t very well ask my parents to replace the batteries in the flashlights, because there was no way they’d give them back.

So, I tried reading right next to my door, by the tiny strip of light shining underneath. That was uncomfortable, and not terribly effective. Plus, it only worked if my parents were still up and moving, and they would periodically check in on me. Right next to the door is not a fun place to be when they decide to check in on you, for a lot of reasons.

So what’s a girl to do? They took all my lights when they found them, ran me over with my door and then grounded me and made sure every light I could use was off. So, I grabbed my red LED alarm clock, held it over the pages and read. It only illuminates about 3 lines at a time, but it was enough for me. It was close enough to the bed that I could put it back quickly and feign sleep if I heard my parents walking close by. Or, if I managed to get the book hidden, I could always say I had forgotten to set it. I read some great books by the light of that alarm clock, but then I got one with green lights. And those are much, much brighter. 🙂

Now, I no longer resort to an alarm clock to read by. I’m old enough to make my own bedtimes. But, I most definitely read my books, late at night, on a regular basis.

Where was your favourite spot to read as a kid? Are there any books you distinctly remember from your childhood? Why?

I’ve never had a designated ‘reading spot’, but I’ve always desperately wanted a nook with a window seat. Sigh. That would be glorious. My most common reading spot is on my bed. I even have a position! I prop my pillows up behind me, sit almost upright, but with a bit of a recline, and prop my left ankle on top of my right knee, holding the book against my legs. Sometimes, I switch legs, and if I’m feeling really different, I’ll keep them straight, or bend them both. Who knows if that actually makes sense, but it’s definitely comfortable!

As for books I remember from childhood, there are way to many for me to list! Remember, I loved to read and I read all the time! I have so many books I remember reading and loving as a kid that I actually started a weekly feature on my blog about it. I call it Memory Monday, and so every Monday I post about a book, author or series that I remember reading and loving, and the distinct memories associated with that. This year, I decided that it would be fun to hear what other people remember in their own posts, as opposed to just comments on mine. So, I opened it up to guest posts, and now I alternate Mondays with my guests. (Ahem, if any of you would like to be a guest poster, send me an email, or fill out the form on my blog {there’s a link to the post right under my header} )

But, I will mention a few specifics. I remember reading my sister’s copies of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House books. I wanted to live on the prairie so bad! I played pioneer in my backyard. I also read my mom’s old copies of Pippi Longstockings to shreds. They are in terrible condition now, because I read them so hard! I wanted to be Pippi! I believe I mentioned before (or hinted) that I was/am a bit of a book nerd. In elementary school, I volunteered to do a book project on Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons because I just loved the book that much. Robin McKinley’s Damar books were the first fantasy books I accepted as valuable uses of my time, and Ann Rinaldi induced my love of historical fiction with Time Enough for Drums. Mary Higgins Clark changed my life and monopolized my reading habits for years. And Fairy Tales have always been a favorite. I obsessed over The Baby-Sitter’s club, and read all the Willo Davis Roberts and Mary Downing Hahn I could get my hands on. There are so many childhood favorites, I couldn’t possibly fit them all into one comment space! But, the book I most remember from childhood is Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. That book has been my favorite since 4th grade. I’ve read it around 40 or 50 times (not lying, promise) and I bawl my eyes out every single time.

How have your reading tastes developed from childhood until now? What were the phases that you went through along the way?

Brace yourselves. Here’s another long answer. When I was young, I read almost everything I could get my hands on. Historical Fiction (specifically about the Titanic), Humor (Wayside School, anyone) Contemporary, picture books, Horror/Ghost stories (Mary Downing Hahn and Betty Ren Wright wrote some great ghost stories) Thriller/Suspense, (Willo Davis Roberts) etc. I don’t think I was really aware that there were specific genres until I bugged my mom for a book once summer. I was bored, and relentless so she suggested some older fantasy, and handed me the first of Kathryn Kurtz’s Deryni series. I hated it. I didn’t get very far before I was again bored out of my mind and back to begging my mom for a book, but making sure she understood that this time, I needed her to give me a good book, because obviously, she didn’t really know how to suggest a book. So, she handed me Pretend You Don’t See Her by Mary Higgins Clark, and I was hooked. I avoided Fantasy like the plauge, scoffing at anyone who dared suggest I read that, and stuck to mysteries, preferably with some dead bodies involved and some assorted contemporary. If you want the whole story, I did include this, and more in one of my earlier Memory Monday posts.

I stayed with MHC for a long time, and then I started some Dean Koontz. Other reading phases have included all things fairy tale, where I spent an entire summer reading 5 fairy tale retellings to every non (or something like that), conspiracy/thriller novels, rereading old favorites, etc. I definitely have periods where I read more of one type of book, and when I get in the mood to read a certain genre or style, I’ll read tons of books in that category, almost (but not quite) exclusively before moving on to the next genre to catch my attention.

Bonus Literacy Question: If you have children, how did you encourage them (or how are you encouraging them) to become readers? If you do not have children of your own, what do you think is the most important thing to focus on in order to promote reading in the coming generations?

Although there are lots of very important things we can do to help and encourage reading, the two that I think are the biggest are- Have books in your home. Lots of books. And, use them! Studies have shown that children who grew up with a lot of books in their homes score better in school than kids without. I’m sure that also has a lot to do with other aspects of you as a parent, like how educated you are, how often you read to or around you children, etc, but there is no denying that there is a distinct correlation between books in the home and performance in school.

But probably more important than that is to let children read what interests them. I know so many people who struggle with reading because they are interested in Harry Potter, Twilight and other books of a similar vein, but they feel like they should be reading, loving and understanding Dickens, Steinbeck and Hardy. It makes me sad, not because they shouldn’t be reading the classics, but because they aren’t strong readers and reading a super complex, intricate story written in old English is hard work, and can be discouraging for a person not confident in their strength as a reader. So, whatever. If you are more interested in werewolves, vampires and witches, or college road trips, teenaged angst and first love, then READ IT! Read what interests you, and don’t let anyone tell you what you are reading isn’t good enough. Reading is reading, and although it’s important to grow as a reader, and to leave your comfort zone, it’s more important that you are comfortable as a reader, and enjoy reading. Hearing people say that reading feels like a chore breaks my heart, and makes me want to find that one book that will completely change their outlook, and show them that reading can most definitely be fun too.

So, parents or future parents, encourage your kids to read and to read anything that interests them. If that means they are reading comic books and graphic novels, Yay! Good for them. There is merit and value in all books, and I think we need to recognize that, and encourage an interest in reading wherever and whenever we see it in a child.

I hope you enjoyed learning about Ashley as much as I did! If you haven’t read her blog before, I suggest that you go take a look.

See you next week for a look into the “roots” of another fantastic blogger!

4 thoughts on “Reading Roots: Ashley of Books from Bleh to Basically Amazing”

  1. I really love the graphic of the large old tree for this feature. I’m always and endlessly interested in people’s literacy histories and stories.

  2. “So, I grabbed my red LED alarm clock, held it over the pages and read. It only illuminates about 3 lines at a time, but it was enough for me.” THAT is dedication right there!!!! Love it, Ashley! Oh, and we both love CV AND Betty Ren Wright – omg, I have ALL of her Apple Scholastic paperbacks. Everything we went to the old K-mart, I would run to the book section and see if she had put something new out 🙂

    Thanks for the great interview, Ashley – loved learning more about you!

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