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”.
I’m changing things up a little today. After over a year of Reading Roots interviews, I’m interviewing … myself! Since today’s my birthday (I’m now just past the quarter century mark, at 26), I thought that it might be interesting to give everyone a bit more information about me and my own reading background.
Let’s explore my 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 absolute earliest memory involving books is that I remember my father reading Berenstain Bears (and other books) to me when I was really young. This is one of the best memories that I have as a child, in part because I learned when I got older that my dad wasn’t a reader at all but still read books to us almost every single day at bedtime for years.
What’s funny is that reading kind of had a mixed status in our house. On the one hand, reading was very much encouraged – my parents bought us tons of books (there are hundreds at their house to this day) and encouraged us to spend our free time reading, and even encouraged me as the oldest child in reading with my younger siblings when they were still learning how. There’s even a picture of me as a 3-year old sitting on the ground in front of a bookshelf holding a[n adult] book on etiquette as if I was reading it, that’s been displayed prominently on the walls of their house for years. We had bookshelves all over the place – in our bedrooms, in the basement playroom, in built-in bookshelves both in the basement hallway and the stairway from the main floor to the basement.
On the other hand, neither of my parents were really “readers”. Until a year ago, I think my dad might have read a total of two books since I was born. (Two books!!! In 25 years!!!) And I’ve seen my mother reading from time to time, but even though she often bought books for herself, I didn’t really see her reading them much throughout my life, also until recently. And the only person in my extended family who I really saw as a reader was an aunt (my mother’s sister), who has bookshelves in her living room and other parts of her house. I remember her lending me “Gone With the Wind” and “Scarlett” when I was far too young by most people’s standards to read and understand them.
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”?
In short, I always considered myself a reader. I don’t remember there ever being a time, even in my earliest memories, when I wasn’t carrying around a book everywhere I went.
I sort of enjoyed LA/English classes, and sort of didn’t. For the most part, I enjoyed the books that we read, but not the classes themselves. I always found the pace too slow – we did a lot of reading aloud when I was in elementary school, for example, and I would get in trouble for reading ahead instead of staying with everyone else. Even when I got to high school, I would often finish reading an entire novel by the time we were only really supposed to have read a handful of chapters.
I liked it more when I got to high school English and we were encouraged to do more independent reading (and the assignments were designed to show a bit more independent and analytical thought). My ninth grade English teacher was this extremely tall, skinny man who entranced us by reading The Hobbit with interesting voices, demystified Shakespeare by explaining the sexual references in Romeo and Juliet, squished our heads with his fingers when we said something silly, and threatened to squash us with his (literally) size 12 shoes when we were misbehaving. Unfortunately, he died when I was in first year university, so he no longer has the opportunity to foster the love of literature in students, but he was a large part of the reason I went into English in university, so I guess his legacy is continued through me (and probably others).
Later on in high school, I was also exposed to some really great books through one specific English teacher, that really showed me that was more to the world than the small, controlled environment in which I was being brought up. Her class was my first exposure to Margaret Atwood (through reading Alias Grace) and feminism. She introduced me to books that showed me that there were other people out there who were like me, such as when she included Fall On Your Knees on a list of suggested reading for an independent study unit, and when she loaned me Braided Lives to read (the first book I ever filled with post-its covered in handwritten notes).
Did you have any interesting reading habits when you were growing up? Do you still have them now?
When I was a kid, I would read everywhere, all the time. I would read during any free time I had at home, especially during the hours between dinner and bedtime. I would bring books along with me to school, to read during recess (I didn’t really have many friends for a very long time), during class (I was always done things early and got bored without something to read), and basically any time that I could sneak in a few minutes. I brought books with me to family get-togethers when I was still too small to really be a part of the conversation, because I usually prefered reading something to playing with toys, and if we were at a house with no toys, I was even more apt to be reading. I could read anywhere, with anything going on around me.
That’s actually something that drove my parents crazy. I remember trying to read at the dinner table once, and they nipped that one right in the bud. (We were a family that ate together every single night.) And at some point when I was around 9 or 10, my parents actually banned me from reading in the car or in any situation where there were other people in the room who might want to talk to me. This was largely because I would tune everything out, and wouldn’t even notice if someone tried to talk to me from a few inches away!
Oddly, this is something that I lost the ability to do, sort of, over the past 5-10 years. I can still zone people out when I really need to (on public transit, for example), but I have a harder time with it than when I was a kid. I’ve taken to listening to audiobooks in public (while walking, taking public transit, etc.) because I have an easier time focusing on the story if I can block out sounds. That might be partly because I live in a big city now and there’s much more going on around me, though … when I was a kid, I lived somewhere very small and quiet, and we drove and didn’t really ever go around more people than whatever family were in the room, so maybe that ability hasn’t really disappeared after all, just that I’ve adapted to new situations.
Where was your favourite spot to read as a kid? Are there any books you distinctly remember from your childhood? Why?
I don’t think I really had a favourite spot to read as a kid, because I read everywhere and anywhere. I was kind of a social outcast for most of my childhood, and reading was something that comforted me and gave me a way to hide from the people who wanted to make my life miserable. I would often try to find places to read where other people might leave me alone – a quiet corner outside at school, for example – but aside from that, I read wherever I could plant my backside somewhat comfortably.
As I talked about above, I have strong memories of the Berenstain Bears books because of my father reading them to us. I also remember the Little Golden Books, Where’s Waldo? books, a lot of books by Robert Munsch (I particularly loved A Promise Is A Promise and The Paper Bag Princess), and a book called All By Myself, all of which my parents had in the house. This last one I remember largely because, to this day, my parents insist that my first word was “self”, and that it was partly due to reading that book so often.
How have your reading tastes developed from childhood until now? What were the phases that you went through along the way?
When I was a kid, I pretty much read whatever I could get my hands on. Looking back, though, that was a pretty limited selection – my school had a very small library, and our family didn’t really visit the town library much (though it was also fairly small then), so I mostly chose from whatever my parents provided.
Actually, I was mostly a series reader when I was a kid – up until the point when I was about 12 or 14. My parents bought – and I read – almost the complete collections of quite a few book series: Baby-Sitter’s Little Sister, The Baby-Sitters Club, Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, The Hardy Boys, and a few other shorter ones.
When I was a teenager, I got really heavily into fantasy books, a development that my parents didn’t really like but still nurtured to a point, in the form of buying books for me to read. I read a lot of stand-alone books at this point – fantasy and otherwise – but collected and devoured the books from a few fantasy series: Last of the Renshai Trilogy, The Renshai Chronicles, most of the Spellsong Cycle, and some of the Dragonlance trilogies. The obsession with fantasy novels lasted until a year or two into university, when immersed myself in reading Vampire Chronicles, Lives of the Mayfair Witches, and The Sleeping Beauty Trilogy.
For the remainder of university, I really only read books for school for the most part. I was taking a degree in English, so I read whatever was on my course reading lists – a mix of things, but mostly stand-alone novels, some “classics”, a lot of contemporary literature, and a lot of Canadian literature. After finishing teacher’s college, I got back into reading, and became very general and eclectic in my tastes. (I started this blog about a year and a half later.) Since then, I read a lot of a wide variety of things, but it includes lots of non-fiction and is still mainly contemporary in nature.
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 don’t have children (yet), but I plan on encouraging the habit of reading in them as much as I possibly can. Basically, I plan to surround them with books, creating a print-rich environment and allowing them to choose what interests them. For me, the most important thing is to promote recreational reading – for kids to see reading as something fun to do, not something they “have to do”. Reading shouldn’t just be about school, it should be something that is integral to their lives, something that reflects their interests and affects them deeply and in multiple ways. I want them to see me (and other adults in their lives) reading, so that we can model for them that reading isn’t something that adults just want kids to do, but that it’s something that everyone of all generations does and finds enjoyable.
I hope you enjoyed learning more about me today!
See you next week as I return to our regular looks into the “roots” of fantastic bloggers!