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 Iris from Iris On Books. 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 earliest memory that involves reading or books is not so much a memory as something I’ve been told again and again when I was younger. It is something I have always felt proud of, even though I don’t remember anything about it. When I was one year old my parents made me a member of the public library in the small city in which we lived and during my childhood and teenage years I never stopped visiting the library. I like to think that it was through this behavior of my parents towards reading that I first grew to love it. My parents aren’t big readers themselves, though they read for fun during holidays. However, I think they consciously tried to read to me from the very start and thus turned me into the bookworm I am today.
Another early memory involves learning to read. Officially we learn to read in what we call the third grade of primary school in the Netherlands (for six-year-olds). However, in first and second grade I always wanted to “write” on the type writer, do puzzles or read – I wasn’t all that interested in playing with dolls while I was at school. I tricked myself into believing I could read Miffy by the time I was 4, but that was because I knew those stories by heart having heard them so many times. When I was 5 however, I learned to read by myself. I distinctly remember that I read an abridged version of Snow White. I could actually read the story, but I couldn’t read the name Snow White, which is rather long in Dutch (“Sneeuwwitje”). So I used a trick: every time I saw a long word I knew it had to be Snow White. Why I remember reading this book this clearly is because I had to read it in front of the class during the school visit of Sinterklaas (you could say he’s a Dutch version of Santa Claus). Children are often afraid of doing anything wrong in front of Sinterklaas (it involves the whole story of his helpers taking you with them to Spain in a dark bag) and so you can imagine how nervous I was. I was really proud to be called to the front of the class and being able to show everyone that I could read already. But I have always been a shy girl and I was so nervous that I messed up. I felt ashamed of that for years.
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”?
This is a hard question to answer for me, because English language classes would be Dutch language classes to me. I didn’t always enjoy them, for a long time I considered myself more of a math and science person than someone with an affinity for languages. However, I have always enjoyed classes on literature. Unfortunately, I am not a big fan of Dutch literature, so I struggled with some of the books I had to read for that class. During high school I discovered English literature, mostly through the works of Austen, and I instantly fell in love. Sadly, I had one of the worst English teachers in high school, by the time I was 14 I could correct her grammar mistakes (and this is not to say my English is perfect – not at all – just that hers was worse) and so I had to try and discover English literature all by myself.
I am not sure when I first started to think of myself as a reader, but I do remember two figures that left quite an impression on me: Matilda from the book Matilda by Roald Dahl and Belle from the movie Beauty and the Beast. I wanted to be like both characters. I wanted to be smart like Matilda and read every book available in the library. I actually tried that with the children’s section, but soon realized that I didn’t enjoy books about soccer at all (and of course that it involved an impossible amount of books). And I wanted to be Belle because she was sweet, and because there’s a scene in the movie in which she dances and reads, while there’s a fountain in the background. I wanted to walk and read at the same time, dance and read at the same time. Of course, I soon learned the inconvenience of this as well.
Did you have any interesting reading habits when you were growing up? Do you still have them now?
I can’t really think of any interesting reading habits. I am quite a standard and boring reader: I read while travelling by train and I read at home, on the couch or in bed.
Where was your favourite spot to read as a kid? Are there any books you distinctly remember from your childhood? Why?
Like I said I never had any special habits when it came to reading. I mostly just sat down and read at any time convenient for myself. And my parents knew that it was my manner of relaxing and coping with taxing situations. When I had to go and see the whole family at Christmas time they always allowed me to bring a book, so I would have something to do while the “grown ups” talked. It is how I read Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder when I was 13. I remember that my uncles and aunts thought I was crazy, reading about philosophy for fun. I think I actually enjoyed their stares. Me and my aunts and uncles don’t always get along, so reading was my way of being a rebellious teenager.
How have your reading tastes developed from childhood until now? What were the phases that you went through along the way?
My reading tastes have developed, but not much. I have always read a lot, although I do read more these last few years than I ever did. Two other things that have also stayed the same are that I like my books to have somewhat happy endings and that I can’t deal with scary books, which is why I avoid thrillers and the like. I once read an R.L. Stine book when I was 10 and I couldn’t sleep for months, having to check several times a night if there really wasn’t a murderer hiding in our house.
There are certain phases I went through during the years. I can’t say I can put a name on my childhood reading years, I mostly read what my library had available: The Baby Sitters Club, the books by Roald Dahl, the books by Astrid Lindgren, the Little House on the Prairie books, etcetera. When I was 12 I read the first two books of Harry Potter (which had been translated to Dutch by that time) and even though I thought them scary and had nightmares about Voldemort for the first couple of night, I was an instant fan. I still thoroughly enjoy rereading those books. When I was 15 I discovered Jane Austen and English literature. My love for those books and my love for reading in English never stopped. I still try to read classics, although this year I have read more contemporary fiction and I’m trying to read more Young Adult books as well.
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?
I do not have children, but I think it is very important to promote reading. I would do anything in my power to make my children enjoy reading and I hate to admit it but I think I’d have a hard time understanding it if they didn’t enjoy reading. However, I think it is always important to remember that it is good to encourage, but also good to have children develop their own preferences. And whenever I think of how I would make any future children enjoy reading, I’m never sure what would be the best way. This might sound silly, but I worry about this quite a lot. However, I do think that my parents did a wonderful job and I would like to follow their example: read to my children every night before they go to sleep, make them a member of the library early on and always have books readily available. The weekly or bi-weekly trips to the library were always a treat to me and I hope that if I once have children, they will look at library trips and books in the same way.
I hope you enjoyed learning about Iris 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!