I was the kind of girl who felt true physical pain when asked to put down a book at the dinner table. I felt ravenous toward toward each book, like a vampire desperate to clamp my fangs into the foreign body until it was drained in its entirety, lifeless on the floor.
I was, in my tastes, completely indiscriminate... It was on the shelf and I could follow at least 35 percent of the action? I gave it a try. - Excerpted from Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnick
I read this in Reader's Digest a few weeks ago and it was like Ms. Skurnick was writing about my childhood. I started doing odd jobs for my grandparents when I was 7 or 8 to earn money to save up and spend on books. When I didn't have a new book, I would scour the shelves at our house or my grandparents'house for anything that would hold my interest long enough to get through it. My grandmother had the boxe set of the Little House on the Prairie series, and I read through the all of it three times by the time I was twelve. I had to have something to read. Always.
I have maybe four memories of my childhood from before I could read. My mother, an elementary teacher, taught me to read when I was four. By the time I was seven, I was reading anything I could get my hands on. Despite that they were unbelievably strict and censoring of everything else in my life from music to clothes to friends, my parents paid little attention to what I read. I guess that to them, I reading and learning and that was good. I read the Reader's Digest cover-to-cover every month, some romance novels I found at my grandparents with content much too mature for my age, and anything about Holocaust survivors I could get my hands on.
Reading opened worlds and ideas to me that were not available anywhere else in my life. Reading also gave me something to do that was only mine, that no one really paid attention to, and that allowed me to escape from any number if situations I wanted to avoid. I distinctly remember reading when I was supposed to be cleaning my room, doing schoolwork, or many various other chores. I would sit or stand, poised as though I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, while reading the book in which I was currently engrossed. I had about 85% of my attention on the book, and about 15% keeping guard so that if my mother came by my room I could quickly stash the book and look as though I was toeing the line.
Reading also came in very handy for keeping up with adult conversations that were none of my business. Since many of my mother's friends had kids my sisters' age, much younger than me, I was usually able to get away with hanging out with the adults... Albeit in the corner with my nose buried in a book. I heard all kinds of gossip, as well as concerns about marriages, child-rearing, and life in general. Since I was a very fast reader, I could quickly read to the end of a page and then pause to listen to what was being said before continuing to the next page. The whole 'little pitchers have big ears' saying completely applied to me. I just happened to be a little big-eared pitcher with her nose in a book who appeared to not be paying attention.
I still love to read, but I have so much less time for it now. I have a stack of books by my bed, waiting for me to read them, but after I take care of the boys, tidy up, and then try to write, I am so exhausted I just fall into bed, asleep as my head hits the pillow. But I miss my old friend. When this month is over I intend to take some time to invest in whittling down my book pile, passing time in some other worlds that are only available to me in books.