I didn't come to avid reading naturally, or early. I ended up learning to read early because my great grandmother ran a daycare, and I was around when she was helping everyone with homework. My ability to read well at an early age was a nifty parlor trick that got a tiny version of me lots of attention from the big people, so I read everything I could in order to show off at pick-up time. I clearly remember picking up a copy of a flyer that got sent home with one of the kids off of the table and reading it. No one thought I could possibly read every word on the flyer, so my great grandmother told me to read it out loud. Imagine everyone's surprise when the 1st grader sounded out the word "auditorium" without any assistance, or prompting.
Although reading assignments for school were never an issue for me, reading for pleasure never really crossed my mind until 7th grade. I will always remember 7th grade, specifically, because that's when I was introduced to the teen novel "The Outsiders". I finished the book in a couple of sittings, and light years ahead of the class. I loved it, and ended up not only re-reading it, but reading all of S.E.Hinton's novels because I was so fascinated by the world of teens and young adults in the Oklahoma of the late 50's and early 60's that she drew on as inspiration for her novels. From then on, I was drawn to the world of fiction, and reading became one of my favorite pastimes.I read all of the youth and young adult fiction of the time, and by high school had developed a serious appreciation for cheesy romance novels (ok, ok. I was just reading for the steamy parts. I was a repressed kid from a slightly conservative family. It happens.)
What really turned me on to reading, not just fiction, but prose, essays, and other points of view, was something I wasn't even supposed to be reading.
Those of us born in the late 60's and 70's, and were in our teens in the 80's and 90's were the last great generation of latch-key kids. We came straight home from school (more or less), and let ourselves in with our own set of keys. In our house, that means we picked up the mail off the floor, and left it on a nearby table where my parents would see it when they walked in.
Among the bills, junk mail and sales papers, were my Dad's copy of Reader's Digest. Once a month, he availed himself of short articles, jokes, quotes, and points of view that may have been opposite his own. What initially intrigued me about Reader's Digest was the Table of Contents listed on the cover. I have always been the kind of person that once something caught my eye, I just HAD to read it. Now being that this was my Dad's subscription, and I didn't exactly have permission to read it before he did, my tween mind saw the challenge as reading it very carefully, so as not to wrinkle or bend the pages, and put it back before he got home.
My Dad, who caught on very quickly to the slightly bent pages, told me in a very amused voice one evening, that although he had no problem with me reading it, just let him read it first, then he would happily leave it out for me to read.
This began my current life long love affair with the little magazine, and introduced me to two writers, among others, who would inform my style of writing for the ext 30-plus years.
I was first introduced to Erma Bombeck during my son's infancy, when I read a short, humor piece that had been re-printed from one of her many books. I am not kidding when I say that I was desperately looking for information after I had my son, as I was only 21 years old, and had no idea what I was doing. Because parenting has always been a competitive sport, I was completely unaware that I could laugh at things like potty-training, kids saying embarassing things at exactly the wrong moment, and 1000 other little things that can drive you crazy when raising little people. Being able to read Erma's funny, and ultimately, wise, little tidbits got me through so much of my son's childhood, and also showed me that you don't always have to write James Michener length novels in order to be a writer. Sometimes simplicity is the best tool in your toolbox.
This simplicity is what drew me to the next essayist. Several years after I started reading Erma Bombeck's work, I was introduced to the quiet, reflective world of Robert Fulghum. I was introduced to his work the same way many people were: via the essay "All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten". Of course it's not comprehensive, but I was stunned at his phiolosophical, but very straightforward, take on life. Sometimes, he mused, the answers to our big questions in life are found in the places we are least likely to look: our humble beginnings. Reading through his body of work after that, I continued to see that same warmth, wit and wisdom displayed on every topic he covered from his pursuit of a favorite meal, to interactions with neighbors, to his hindsight regarding the practice of religion. With Fulghum, I realized that not only is humility the better part of philosophy, it might be the best part.
And it is with humility, dear readers, that I leave you with this last post of an incredibly long and somewhat painful year. I will return next year, my fourth year in this exercise, with what I hope will be with, wisdom, and some insight into this space we all share. You have been kind, and exceptionally patient with my musings over the last 3 1/2 years. I also hope that I can be a little more consistent with my content in the coming year, as there will be so much to talk about.
Good Night, Dear Readers. Take care, and Be well.