I’ve always been a voracious reader.
I got in trouble exactly once in first grade. We’d just finished our free reading time, and our teacher, Mrs. Sisul, told us to put away our books. But I was enjoying the adventures of Ms. Frizzle and her students on the Magic School Bus too much to stop reading, so I hid the open book in my desk and kept reading, earning me a negative paper punch on that month’s artwork.
My love of the written word continued throughout elementary school. Second grade’s Ms. Johnson introduced me to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and the other Chronicles of Narnia, which I’ve since reread to the point of memorization. In third grade Mrs. Rudolph instilled a love of Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose books were also reread until known by heart. (Interesting random fact: in my Russian class the term we learned for memorize, выучить наизусть, literally translates as “to know by heart”.)
In fourth grade we were introduced to the Accelerated Reader program. Basically you’d read a book, take a test on it, and be awarded points based on the reading level of the book and how many questions you got right. My friends and I held annual competitions to see who could get the most points, which opened up the world of literary classics. In addition to Mark Twain and Scott O’Dell and Louisa May Alcott, we tackled Doestoevsky and Tolstoy, Victor Hugo and Gabriella Garcia Marquez.
I didn’t have any friends who lived close by, so my free time was spent with books. I was fortunate in that I lived a mile’s bike ride from a library (well, three miles if I took the approved non-side-of-the-highway route but that didn’t happen very often; sorry, Mom), and I read probably its entire young adult and sci-fi/fantasy sections.
By sixth grade I was still reading age-appropriate books (Babysitters’ Club, Christopher Pike, Anne McCaffrey), but I’d also added in age-nonappropriate books (Stephen King, Jean Auel) and nonfiction. I was horribly disappointed that for my twelfth birthday party no one wanted to go with me to see Schindler’s List and compare it to its book.
My grandmothers were both readers as well, and around this time my maternal grandmother gave me novels in The Cat Who series, as well as a dozen Michener books, and a romance series based on Bible characters. All promptly devoured.
In high school I continued with the classics, preferring books with themes and issues and well-developed characters to fluff books. Although I still read the fluff. An art teacher saw me with a Wheel of Time book in class and gave me a list of other fantasy authors, including Dennis L. McKiernan, and I promptly read all those as well. College, filled with lit classes analyzing Chekhov and Baudelaire and Swift and Conrad, pushed me back towards literary stories, as did my role as a high school English teacher, and that’s where I remain today.
I have hundreds of books I want to read at any given moment, but that doesn’t keep me from rereading what I read as a child. A lot of the classics have deep themes that I didn’t pick up on when I was ten (Dracula, for instance, or even some of Brian Jacques’ Redwall novels), or layers that are revealed with each subsequent read.
But I’m careful with what I choose to revisit. A few years ago I picked up a new novel by Dennis L. McKiernan and had to put it down after just a chapter; his elaborate purple prose, written as far as I can tell just to impress his readers, was something I couldn’t take. I’m afraid to reread The Belgariad; I know it’ll be unpalatable based on what I’ve read since I initially read it in ninth grade.
Just this past week I’ve reread LM Montgomery’s Emily books. A friend and I read all the Anne of Green Gables books, probably in about fourth or fifth grade, and so for my eleventh birthday (I think) she gave me Emily of New Moon. I think I appreciated it more this time, was able to relate to it more at least now that I’m going through the process of getting published. The books are still as lovely as they were before, not dated in the least. I still prefer Emily to Anne. And I would’ve married Dean Priest over Teddy Kent any day.
What about you? What books from your childhood have you reread decades later? Did you love them or hate them? Anne or Emily? Dean or Teddy?