Sunday, July 22, 2007

Turn the page

Since it's been a reading weekend--543 pages down in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows--and the question has been posed regarding reading remembrances, let's stay on the subject of books.

I don't particularly recall learning to read, although I know that I liked doing it and was told that I read from a fairly early age. I asked my mom for some specifics because she would know. She's filled in some of the blanks, although it's amazing what comes back to you when you think about it.

I didn't attend preschool, and due to my birthday falling near the cutoff date, I was among the youngest in my class by starting school at the age of four. (I turned five after a couple weeks. ) I began spelling and recognizing words with the help of The Letter People in kindergarten. I still remember the program's theme song, found at the beginning of this video for Mr. H. The knitters will have some affection for Mr. S and his Super Socks. While it might seem crazy for Miss O's identifier to be Obstinate--an awfully big word for the kids the show was aimed at--the meaning and spelling stuck. (My parents might be inclined to say I took the word to heart at the dinner table. I was a picky eater.)

My mom says I was "really reading" in first grade. I can visualize a bunch of slim yellow soft-cover readers probably bought at a garage sale, but supposedly the first book I read was a Star Wars picture book that condensed the story of the first film (otherwise known as Episode IV: A New Hope). I know that I also tore through the Sweet Pickles books. Later on I heard that my parents were a little worried I would be an "egghead"--for some reason that still sticks out to me--because I was a voracious reader. (They were relieved when I got into sports.) I won a prize in second grade for reading three hundred books, the most in my grade.

I read a great variety of stuff in elementary schools, from Choose Your Own Adventure paperbacks to Laura Ingalls Wilder novels. I loved Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain five-book series and was laughed out loud at Gordon Korman's books, which I probably bought through the Scholastic Book Club mail-order forms passed out in class. (It seems that many of the Canadian Korman's books from that time, such as No Coins, Please, are out-of-print in the U.S.) Of course, there was the Weekly Reader and periodic school visits by the bookmobile, a fire engine red caboose with wall-to-wall books for purchase.

By fifth grade I had teachers pointing me toward bigger books, such as those by James Herriot. My mom was a long-term substitute teacher in the building's other fifth grade class that year, but she was the reading teacher for all students in that grade. I remember asking her to assign book reports, which I loved to do. (I suspect my fellow students would not have been crazy about this if they knew.) It's no wonder I'm a critic now, isn't it?

I was reading Agatha Christie mysteries by junior high. Again, this would be per my mother's influence. She loved to watch the PBS program Mystery!, the (at the time) Vincent Price-hosted anthology show whose animated opening credits were inspired by Edward Gorey drawings and featured Charles Gounod's "Funeral March for a Marionette" as the theme song. (You can hear the familiar theme starting at the 2:21 mark here. Furthering my nerd credentials, I learned this on the piano.)

I continued to read books for fun through high school, saw a dip in that during college, and have experienced ebbs and flows in novel reading since. If I find a new author I love, I tend to read everything I can get my hands on. I may then go months without finishing a book.

Reading Deathly Hallows this weekend (and likely into tomorrow) reminds me of how wonderful it is to be swept away by a book. It seems that an entire generation of readers has discovered that sense through J.K. Rowling's books. Hopefully it sticks. If Friday/Saturday night's crowd was any indication, the printed novel isn't dead yet.

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At 10:46 PM, Blogger Karen said...

That brought back memories! I didn't learn with the Letter People, having learned to read before going off to Kindy already. Being #4 of 5 kids had some advantages. I only know I could read already because my big sisters had taught me. They are 11 and 12 years older than I am. I distinctly remember being sent to the first grade classroom to choose books to take home to read during Kindergarten. I haven't stopped devouring books since. My kids are the same way. :-) Printed books aren't going anywhere. Computer monitors are too hard on the eyes.

At 5:24 AM, Blogger Ruth's Place said...

I learnt my letters off Sesame Street and could read before first grade. As an English teacher I did see kids who read Harry Potter as their first ever book (I was teaching high school) that they read voluntarily, who went on to keep reading other books, but sadly many of them just read the Potter books and then went back to the video games. Most memorable comment I got was "why should I read when I have tv?"

At 7:02 AM, Blogger Jennifer said...

I love to read but have a hard time setting aside the time as an adult. I remember my first book, though...Sammy the Sea Lion ;) I used to read multiple books a night in 7th and 8th grade, and even into high school, but now it's tough, especially when I'd most of the time like to be knitting instead.


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