Maybe my love of words and reading started in the crib. My mother said she taught me nursery rhymes in late nights while my father worked driving a city streetcar.
I devoured the limited library collection at Marcy Elementary, the K-8 school I attended in Detroit, running through works by Lois Lenski, John Tunis, Louisa Mae Alcott, Betty Cavanna, James Fenimore Cooper. Biographies of Thomas Edison, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ben Franklin, Marie Curie, and Florence Nightengale intrigued me. So did those Hardy boys and Nancy Drew. From 6th grade on, each year I re-read several favorites: Mrs. Mike, Seventeenth Summer, Little Men, and L.M. Montgomery’s Anne books.
Friends, Patricia and Saundra, and I trekked to the Public Library on Gratiot Avenue every week. We would browse and read and show each other our new discoveries. Each of us would choose another armful to check out before heading home. It was heaven.
That walk to the library took forever in winter. We’d share gloves, warming the hand that carried our load of return books, our other hand jammed in a coat pocket. Sometimes we’d run for one block, to generate body heat, then we’d slow to a walk for the next. In hot, humid summer months, stopping at the Eagle Dairy for milkshakes became a delicious habit that continued into the fall.
Reading, itself, was a delicious habit. It transported Saundra, Patricia, and me through time and space, gave us a glimpse of other ways of living, and taught us three little Black girls about the world outside our eastside neighborhood. I’m sure it’s because of our love of reading that we ended up with lives different from most kids on our block.
While pregnant, I read aloud to my daughters. Pat the Bunny, Curious George, and The Snowy Day were favorites. Going to the library became an event for them as toddlers. This paid off as they grew to enjoy reading and did well in school. Now, often we discuss and recommend books to each other.
During my 34-year teaching career, I tried to instill the love of reading in my elementary and middle school students. Sometimes that meant asking students to dig in and dissect a book, search for meaning, or look for similarities and differences between the characters and themselves. Sometimes that meant reading aloud, giving voice to the incredible stories that lay between the book covers.
|1999, a few months before retiring|
I will always cherish the memory of a group of 8th graders who listened, begged for me to read, and cried at the end of Where the Red Fern Grows. When they came to class the day after the movie aired on TV, many were incredulous over the differences between the movie and the story they’d heard. “They changed it! The book was way better!”
Today, I belong to three book groups. Sometimes the books chosen overlap, and groups read the same selection during the year. At other times, I’m juggling two or three different ones and then fitting in others that I choose to read for pleasure or enlightenment. This past couple of years, I’ve read some outstanding and inspiring stories; I’ll list a few titles below.
I recently re-read Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes were Watching God, lingering over her delightful language and imagery on this third time around. It was like visiting with an old friend.
What impact has reading had on your life? What have you read lately that you would recommend?
~ xoA ~
A Short List of Recent Favorites:
Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese
Into the Beautiful North, Luis Urrea
Someone Knows My Name, Lawrence Hill
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCrullers
Traveling with Pomegranates, Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor
When Women were Birds, Terry Tempest Williams
Wild, Cheryl Strayed