Those of you who love to read know that there are certain books that change you. They resonate in our souls, they challenge our ideas and opinions, they commemorate moments in time, and stay with us long after we turn the last page.
And since this has been on my mind as of late, I have decided to write about my own journey through the books that have defined my life.
My Parents Were Readers, Thank God
My Mama and Daddy read to us every night when we were little, and encouraged us to develop voracious reading habits (which they both had, and still have to this day).
Some of my fondest memories are of listening to my father’s heartbeat through his chest while he read “Toby Tyler” by James Otis (one of his favorite childhood books, given to him by a cousin he admired), or hugging Mama tight while she read “Love You Forever” by Robert Munsch. (I wouldn’t understand why it always made her cry until I became a mother myself.) As we grew older, they read “Jurassic Park” by Michael Crichton and other compelling adventure novels.
When we were literate enough to read by ourselves, they allowed us to make multiple selections in the Scholastic reading flyers sent home from school; and Mama took us to the library in Omaha every weekend. (I have fond memories of climbing up in the indoor tree house in the children’s section with my brothers, pouring over our latest finds.)
Thus, A Reader is Born
The first books I can remember being obsessed with (on my own) were popular with young girls of my generation: “The Baby-Sitter’s Club” series by Ann M. Martin, the “Sweet Valley High” series by Francine Pascal, and — of course — anything written by Judy Blume. (Though I can’t remember the title, after reading one of Blume’s books I was convinced that I could grow bigger boobs by rubbing peanut butter on my chest and chanting, “I must, I must, I must increase my bust!” Sadly, the impressive breasts didn’t come until after I birthed my son. LOL!)
I don’t have a clear memory of reading anything significant between that pre-adolescent period and High School (weird how memory sometimes fades); but my AP English teacher my senior year, Mrs. Holland, changed my life.
I didn’t do well academically in her class; but I did read the books she assigned to us (just didn’t do the work that accompanied them). One in particular — “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou — opened my eyes to a world of strong, female, largely minority writers. Writers that weren’t afraid to write about their pain, the trauma inflicted on them, and their triumphs in the face of it.
After reading Angelou’s book, I actively sought out other titles by authors who had overcome tremendous obstacles — namely Toni Morrison, Amy Tan and Julia Alvarez. I found beauty and grace in their stories… and wanted to be a writer, just like them.
Life got in the way of those plans, but I didn’t stop reading for many, many years.
How I Became a “Frosting-Eater” (and Other Books)
In my early twenties, one of my many poor choices in men introduced to me Pier Anthony’s “Incarnations of Immortality” series. Much to my surprise, my mother read some of these titles with me; and for that reason, they will always have a sentimental place in my heart (and are the only good that came out of said relationship with another bozo).
When I met my second (and current) husband, Mitchell, he teased me about my obsession with Oprah’s book club — where I found incredible titles like “A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry (which I read with my father) and “I Know This Much Is True” by Wally Lamb. He purchased them for me without complaint, but didn’t understand why I would want to read books that were steeped in what he dubbed “pain and misery.”
For Mitch, books were a fantastical escape. He, himself, was not trying to understand how to recover shards of a shattered soul, and was saddened by the fact that many of my reading selections seemed to make me maudlin. As such, he challenged me to read some of his favorite titles.
The first book he ever recommended was “Running With The Demon” by Terry Brooks, the next was “Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman. I had never before read titles in that particular genre, but once I finished them? I was sold. Fantasy — especially dark fantasy — was where it was at! (How had I not known about this?!)
I searched (rather enthusiastically) for female authors in the genre, and came across Anne Bishop’s “Tir Alainn” and “Black Jewels” series. Underlying these sagas were astonishing narratives about recovering from sexual and physical abuse. They were empowering and entertaining at the same time; and I was blown away by this multi-disciplined discovery. (I have read these books at least half a dozen times, and credit Bishop with helping me to face some of the traumas of my past.)
Energized, but only party sated with my fantasy habit, I demanded more. More books that would open the door to ethereal worlds, and stories of intrigue and suspense. When I expressed this desire to Mitch, he gave me “Salem’s Lot” by Stephen King and “Lives of the Mayfair Witches” by Anne Rice. And holy crap, horror was awesome!
Weekly trips to our local used book store became adventures that I couldn’t wait to take. Perusing the shelves, I found satirical authors like Christopher Moore and Jenny Lawson. (Who knew you could laugh out loud while reading?!) And then one day, I saw a black spine with just one word on it: Lying.
Having battled with a compulsive lying habit for decades, I was intrigued by the title. It turned out to be a memoir written by Lauren Slater. Slater is a psychotherapist who writes about her own struggles with mental health disorders; and reading her books convinced me that I needed to seek professional help. I give credit to Slater for making me a better wife and mother through therapy.
And So, We Come to Today
I recently started reading again (because I want to be a reader even more than I want to be a writer) after a couple of years away from my books; but the ADHD habit of flitting from one book to another to another took it’s toll; and I nearly gave it all up.
Frustrated that I couldn’t keep up with the monumental (and self-imposed) task of consuming many novels at once, I angrily deleted my reading logs and Goodreads “currently reading” feed. I sighed in frustration, and labelled myself a failure. I sat on the couch, staring at my Kindle and paperbacks and thought, “Christ, what’s the use? I can’t do this. Might as well sit here and stare into space.”
But! I recognized this sentiment for what it was… a sinister fallacy from my weirdly-wired and addicted mind. Addicted, because I just kept thinking, “More! I need to be reading more!” Weirdly-wired because I have a tendency to listen more closely to the discouraging hamsters in my head than I do the encouraging ones; and I really have to be mindful of this.
So. I got up yesterday morning and remembered my long-lost obsession with any title that has some version of the word “lie” in it. (Bizarrely enough, I have yet to encounter a poorly written book in my rather extensive library of lying tomes.) I opened up the Amazon app, and decided that I will go through the daily deals each morning and purchase any Kindle title that fits this (somewhat odd) fascination with a three-letter word and all of it’s derivatives.
You may think, “Really? Are there that many novels that find the word ‘lie’ beguiling enough to put in their title?” And the answer is? Yes. Though I didn’t find any today, I did find two yesterday: “The Lying Game” by Ruth Ware, and “Veil of Lies” by Jeri Westerson.
I also found “City of Thorns: The Demon Queen Trials, Book 1” by C.N. Crawford, and “The Cruelty Is The Point: The Past, Present, and Future of Trump’s America” by Adam Serwer. (Turns out, browsing always leads to more books. 🤦🏻♀️ )
While these narratives don’t fit the bill of my title obsession, they appealed to other aspects of my literary personality. Crawford’s book because it is dark (rather erotic) fantasy, and the title character is named “Rowan”. (Same as the protagonist from Rice’s Mayfair novels, so how could I go wrong?) Serwer’s because I have a needling desire to understand what in the hell is going on in the mind’s of the Conservative Right here in the United States… and bonus! My Mama has been brave enough to agree to read Serwer with me. (I love reading books with my folks.)
Thus, I opened up a book yesterday and started reading. I recognize that attempting more than two books at a time is a self-defeating endeavor, and acknowledge that no one really cares how much I’m reading… so why be so hard on myself?
I am allowed to stumble, I am prone to fall… but the important thing is to get right back up and try again. As we say in the hallowed halls of the Anonymous, “Progress, not perfection.”