I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember, really. Although my mom had no problem saying no to new toys and clothes, she never once turned down a request for a new book. (One of my favorite mother-daughter vacations: traveling to Nevada City, CA because of the density of used bookstores.)
One of the most familiar feelings from my childhood is that intangible sense of longing that comes with ending a great book and realizing that, for now, that corner of reality must be closed and set aside because dinner is ready. And, in the cases of the very best books, the anticipation: how long until I can pick it back up and enter its world anew? My first tastes of those other worlds were in the wonderful rhymes of Dr Seuss; as I grew, I settled on the prairie with Laura Ingalls Wilder; shivered in the attic with Sara Crewe; went there and back again with Bilbo Baggins; and read everything I could get my hands on by Beverly Cleary and later, Judy Blume.
Why I didn’t choose to major in literature in college, I’ll never know; one of the great pleasures of those four years was when I could set down the philosophy or political science books and pick up a novel. I stored up reading lists for the summer: the year I interned in Washington, D.C., I spent every spare minute in our bare apartment on an air mattress, working my way through The Lord of the Rings, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Midnight’s Children, and the entire Harry Potter series (Goblet of Fire came out that summer; I read it twice). And I can tell you much more today about the inhabitants of Middle Earth than I can about the nascent political philosophies of African churches – which I supposedly spent the summer studying.
After I got married the following summer, I began teaching humanities at Trinity School and had the great good fortune, over the next five years, to lead seminar discussions on Dante, Dostoevsky, Cervantes, Dickens, Flannery O’Connor, and Jane Austen. It was in that classroom, around a table with 16- to 18-year-old girls, that I discovered why I love fiction and to truly appreciate its craft and power. And if you haven’t read Mr. Collins’ proposal to Elizabeth Bennet aloud to a group of teenagers, or worked through The Brothers Karamazov with high school seniors about to make their way into the world, then find some you can practice on, and soon. It’s pure delight.
Of course, since my daughter was born, my reading time is once again spent with Dr. Seuss, and I love that her most frequent request (other than wheedling for M&Ms) is, “Maybe you could read me a book right now?” When she and I aren’t reading, you can usually find us in the kitchen cooking or eating – my other great passion – or else trying to tell the weeds from the real plants in the yard. And my perfect evening? A really, really good bottle of wine, a couple of episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with my fabulous husband who dutifully reads all the books I hand him and continues to wait patiently for me to reciprocate, and reading Neal Stephenson.