In the cavernous halls of my childhood home, books lined our shelves and took up space in our armoires, toy chests, and on top of our nightstands, but I’m sad to say, not many of them were actually read. It might come as a surprise, but I didn’t grow up in a book loving family or one that encouraged reading. This is not to say my parents disapproved of us reading, but I would say they didn’t nurture a zeal for it, which makes sense; they weren’t big readers themselves. I didn’t start voraciously reading until later in life. While listening to other people talk about their reading lives, or what I like to call their reading canon, I quickly learned that my experience with books was very different.
I’m what you call a late-reading bloomer and not by choice. I had a hearing impairment that made learning to read and write virtually impossible, which caused me to fall behind in my classes; hence, I was less inclined to pick up a book. Each word I pronounced and mumbled through painfully reminded me of my disability making me feel like a colossal failure, and I was only six! I was about to learn brail until I had surgery, which fixed my ears (or more medically accurate, my eardrums.) It was like magic. The hearing, not the reading and writing part. I still had to learn the basics, but I was already severely behind. My doctors and teachers were doubtful about my odds of me ever catching up.
Well, I showed them.
Despite my parent’s apathy in reading, my parents had an affinity for collecting books from anywhere. New, used, falling-apart books crowded our shelves. It was easy enough to distinguish the adult books from the kid ones by whether or not they were hardcover or paperback. It was a good thing my dad did this because I didn’t treat anything I owned with ANY kind of care or respect.
The Children books were designated to a specific bookshelf. It was ugly and made of a cheap metal. The parts that weren’t rusting were sprayed in an olive green paint and chipping; nonetheless, it served its purpose. The books on this shelf were thin and flimsy, too short and felt tacky whenever I picked them up. Then one day, hardcover dinosaur books were placed on this shelf. I don’t know if it was Mom or Dad who started amassing these books, but to me, who was fascinated with anything buried or hidden, did not ask why.
These books along with several other books I read at a young age inspired a number of wild, career choices:
Paleontologist – 2 Years
Until. . . My brother informed me of the niche market and job insecurity. Even then, I had some concept of money and poverty.
Ballerina – 1 Year
Until. . . I tried to spin 360 degrees on my ankle and sprained it in the process. Apparently I had no concept of the human anatomy.
Erotic Dancer – Three Months
Until. . . I learned that I would have to take off my clothes more than once in a crowd sober. . .
Lawyer – 2 Years
Until . . . I learned that there’s more to being a lawyer than pointing and parading heroic speeches to juries.
Private Detective – 1 ½ Years
Until. . .a year and half went by and I couldn’t figure out who took my fifty cents. My dad later confessed he had put it in his chain jug.
Veterinarian – 6 months
Until . . . I realized I wouldn’t have a facility to save all the animals that I would refuse to put down.
Doctor – Back-up Plan
Until . . .there’s no longer science involved and we’re taken care of by autonomous devices.
Books remained a valuable source of information and influence, but I wasn’t reading a lot of Fiction. After my parents divorced, my dad (along with my grandpa) continued to bestow my brother and I with something practical, something we could use later on in life, thus, the carnival of Non-Fiction and Historical books had begun!
I read books about historically famous people like Cleopatra, Augustus Caesar, William Penn, Andy Warhol, and Mozart. My brother was a lot more receptive though and fancied these books more than I did. When we received a WWII book overtaking us in size, he beamed with interest while I played with my crayons and markers. I ended up being on a book hiatus for the next five years. It would be the library that revived my interest in books.
My hometown’s library is actually big (compared to the cluster of small towns around it) and more modern, with a glass wall at the entrance, a hidden descending staircase, and four computers—which I can’t stress enough was a lot in comparison with what the other libraries had in the area.
To say that I suddenly started reading every book in sight would be a lie. I was particular, which is the nice way of saying I was stubborn and picky. Subjected to years of reading Non-Fiction and Zoology magazines, I wanted my first book at the library to be amazing and memorable, and it was. A book from the Dear America series called I Walk in Dread attracted me for its journal writings, and I was able to relate to the female protagonist. I liked that these women were strong, intelligent, and independent. I’d end reading more books with these types of women that would inspire me and morph me into the woman I am today. They’d also be the kind of women I like to write about, but when middle school ended, I would end up rerouting my passions and interests into something different.
High school was a boiling pot of my love for writing and painting; reading fell to the wayside. I’d sometimes pick up books like Speak and Dreamland when I needed something to console me, but whenever I was having a Low, feeling extremely anxious or about to lose my shit, I took out the colored pencils and sketched. I’d eventually try and channel this into a viable career. Of course, I eventually learned that I wasn’t too keen on commission work. I was losing sleep on projects that didn’t stir anything inside me. The commercial world of art just wasn’t for me.
When I finally had enough of the Fine Arts program at the university, I transferred over to English Studies. The feeling that buoyed inside me left me able to breath, to think clearly. I felt less tangled inside.
At last, I thought.
I was exposed to a myriad of Classics, which opened the floodgate to more contemporary post-modern books. This is the part when I started to read every book I could. This is when my writing started to evolve into something beyond an inchoate style.
I know my reading canon doesn’t follow the average book-lover narrative. It’s the one topic I skirt around with other readers who maybe have that one book they used to fall asleep to or that they read every year. And I get it. That book is nostalgic for them. It’s just something I can’t relate to entirely. I have fond memories, but they’re more than likely more recent. I don’t have a lot of books from my childhood that I can really talk about since I started out reading late, but that doesn’t mean I love reading any less. It’s just a different story.
What’s your reading life canon?