Friday, April 18, 2014

Learning to Read at Age 25

This is the story of how I learned to read.

Growing up, I don't remember a single instance in which someone read something to me. I struggled to find age appropriate books and I largely failed because no one helped me find age appropriate books.

When I was 7 I overheard that the Chronicles of Narnia were "really good". So I checked it out at the library and was stymied at the very beginning. It kept referring to a wardrobe. What the heck was a wardrobe those crazy British people? Did it have something to do with war? Or robes?

Reading was confusing, bewildering, frustrating and fruitless. If I were more patient, I supposed I could've made use of a dictionary. But my experiences with dictionaries were equally frustrating. Often the definition included words I didn't know so it was an endless hunt down farther and farther rabbit trails until I forgot what word I was even looking up in the first place.

But once in a great while, I was so drawn to a topic that I actually made the effort to read. In particular, princess fairy tales. I couldn't get enough of them. The enchantingly beautiful protagonist. The cruel and unjust things that she suffered. Magic. And of course, The Prince.

But eventually I got tired of the formulaic genre and haven't read another fairy tale since 5th grade.

I also loved Roald Dahl. He is the only author to ever make the child-me feel like I wasn't actually reading. I was in his world.

And then in college I met a reader. My then-boyfriend, now-Spouse, had (and still has) an unholy love of all things books. For a miserably poor college student he had an unusually gigantic collection of books spilling over every surface of his tiny living space.

Somehow we got along. It didn't bother him that I didn't read. And it didn't bother me that he had way too many books. He read his books and then we talked about them and it worked out very well that way.

But one day, I don't even remember why, he suggested that I read a book. Not in a mean or condescending way. But more like, hey, do you want to try to do this thing that's actually really enjoyable once you learn to enjoy it?

And I resisted. Books are boring. I'm too busy. I don't know where to start. What should I read? Nah, like I said, books are boring.

Why don't you just pick one book from my bookshelf? he said. Here, this is a thin one. How about this one? Why don't we just start with reading one page. Together.

And so we cracked open Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse and read one page. And the next day we read another. And the next day more pages. And soon I was hooked. I got lost in the story.

The apartment in which I learned to love to read.

It took at least another few years for me to finally say that I love to read. But now, 10 years after first flipping through Siddhartha, I realize I've completely transformed into one of those people I thought I'd never be--a reader.

How dim and dark my world would be if he hadn't taught me to read.


Tammy said...

I love this post, Christina! I'm a fellow bookworm. My dad loves to read, and from as early as I can remember, we were always going to the library and book sales. He and I were just talking about this last year - what a blessing and a gift it is have that love of reading.

One of my favorite memories is from a Sunday afternoon during summer break at Cal. I took the 4th Harry Potter book out to my favorite reading spot by Doe Library, and remember thinking that life could offer me little more. I don't remember ever being more content in my life.

Kate Sherwood said...

I love Herman Hesse! Someday, I will read The Glass Bead Game, again, in German this time.

I was always a reader--until law school (I am sure you understand why). My daughter is more like you probably were--she reads to obtain needed information, not for fun. Her world seems to work well that way, right now.

I am sorry that your start with reading was so rough and without guidance. By the way, even as a reader, I thought dictionaries were stupid and frustrating for exactly the reasons you said. In what world does it make sense to define a word with another tense of the same word or with an equally difficult word (for someone who has found the need to use a dictionary!)? My teachers did not let me do that. A dictionary meant for students shouldn't either.

Welcome to the world of people who read for fun! Hopefully, I will find my way back soon.

Kate @ BJJ, Law, and Living

Alice in Wonderland said...

Tammy--How wonderful to have a parent to nurture a love of books in you at a young age. And I so agree--my greatest fantasy is to curl up with a good book on a cold rainy day with a hot beverage (rum toddy?) in front of a fireplace.

Kate--How cool that you can read it in the original language! Funny enough I've actually started reading more once I had kids cuz I just flip through my kindle while nursing (my kids nurse for a looooooooong time). But I really miss actual paper books--there's nothing quite like reading, re-reading, highlighting, flipping back, thumbing through, and just feeling the weight of it in your hands. One day I'm gonna get back to paper books!

Kate Sherwood said...

I love the experience of reading actual books, too. But, I have recently started taking care of a 3-month-old baby on occasion and a Kindle is perfect for one-handed reading.

Kate @ BJJ, Law, and Living