Learning to Read: A Journey

So, a get to know me a little better post: it has been said that Cheri and I have been voracious readers our whole lives, but in my case, that hasn’t been quite true. I tell this story to everyone who never asks, and it is the story that started me on my reading journey.

My entire family is full of readers. My mom devours crime novels, at the time my brother would read hundreds of novels a month (he was and is a super geek), and my dad used to and still reads the paper and magazines quickly and regularly.

With all that going on around me, the reason why I started reading was Cheri.

cheri ok-potato drawing
Bringing this dude back — artwork by artist Cheri

I’ve been pretty competetive my whole life. I was a smart kid and so when we were given picture books to read, I read the hardest picture books with the smallest words: Sally and Bill both liked jumping and crawling, they might’ve said. But they were still picture books.

There was one person in my class, one little girl, who didn’t read the thin books from the baskets. When the class went to the library, she would venture past the children’s section into the shelves for the big kids, to the books with no pictures. One time, I followed her and borrowed the same book as her. It was a Baby-Sitters Club book, which is a kids book, but a chapter book with little to no pictures.

I only remember this because my mom constantly reminds me that this happened.

I apparently could not read it. I had to return the book in shame. I then brought home a bunch of Baby-Sitters Little Sister book series which was a sort of inbetween with some pictures and more words than the thin picture books. They were longer and considered novels. My mother informs me that I often seemed bored with the actual stories, but I was determined to catch up to this girl who was a reading savant in my eyes. That jerk would finish entire chapter books while the class was still at the library.

After about a month, I worked up the courage to try another Baby-Sitters Club book, and, surprisingly enough, I could read it. I read about pageants and classes and how to overcome troubles with friends, and all was very boring to me.

Johanna Mason disgust gif
Johanna Mason from Catching Fire showing how over I was with the overly sweet and vanilla plots

Anyway, now that I was reading, and it was all Cheri’s fault, I didn’t know what to read. I remember getting whatever books others were reading for awhile. This lead to reading from several series like Goosebumps, Encyclopedia Brown, and Animorphs among others. Nothing really stuck and I read more because of the reading charts than enjoyment. But then I found fairy tales. I’m not sure if everywhere has them, but most libraries have these color books of fairy tales. I remember joining Library Club specifically so that I could sit in the back of the last rows, where most kids would not venture, and read throughout most of the club.

The thing that drew me to fairy tales in the very beginning, were the fantastical ideas and the wacky adventures that people would go on. Hey, you there, warrior, if you stalk my daughters and tell me where they’re going every night, you get to marry one and succeed me. Who does that?

This quickly segued into reading fantasy, but a strangely isolated type of fantasy. I often chose female protagonists (which were hard to find). But because of this, they were very strong and chose to break into the traditionally male roles that dominated the fantasy genre. Authors like Tamora Pierce, Mercedes Lackey, and Anne McCaffery took me through middle school and I grew to accept that it was normal for women to dominate and exceed expectations.

Lagertha Lothbrok viking
Lagertha Lothbrok from Vikings showing her bad ass self as she vikings (which is a verb, I think)

I’m not sure exactly when it started happening, but I found I read to understand situations that I wasn’t sure would ever happen. Facing insurmountable odds, facing adversity, overcoming all obstacles were heavily emphasized in fantasy. It was a sort of escapism and living vicariously through these strong people that made me go through my formative years with my head held high.

As I started to get older, I started to explore different philosophies which took me to sci-fi. Different moralities are explored and philosophies are taken to extremes in a very Socratic way — you see them played out to the fullest. It was a great learning experience and broadened my thoughts in a way that I hadn’t experienced yet. To see the extremes and creativity that authors in the sci-fi genre have, and especially the hard sci-fi where they take the time to explain the current sciences and theories that things are based in, particularly fascinated me.

Reading, for me, started off as a gauntlet thrown by an unwitting challenger, that grew to encompass some of the most influential ideas in my life. It, from more or less the beginning, has been a positive experience and I’ve learned so much from every book that I have picked up for enjoyment.

Robin Hood Prince of Thieves gauntlet
Robin Hood Prince of Thieves challenge being issued

Your heart racing as a main character rushes headlong into an ambush, the mundane weird facts that you encounter then look up to see if it’s true, the philosophies that span out and teach you things you would’ve never learned otherwise; no matter what you read, you’re learning.

Hearing about Cheri’s experiences with reading made me realize that a lot of people didn’t get the same freedom I did in discovering on their own what they liked to read. My mother would take us frequently to the library and never confined me to any areas, which is why I was allowed to explore fantasy very early. She also prodded me in different directions, having read quite a few books herself. I was very lucky.

What was your reading journey like? Let us know in the comments and we’ll see you on Wednesday!

-Chebk

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