Unlike many booksluts, I was not a natural born reader. I have no stories about teaching myself to read or learning to read before I started school. But I had a lot of people in my life who read to me at a young age. My mom read Little Golden Books to me all the time, and so did my Aunt Jill and Aunt Stephanie. I could recite my favorite books from memory, even if I couldn’t understand the letters and words.
Once I started school, it wasn’t until near the end of kindergarten that I learned to read very simple words, and throughout first and second grade, I struggled with reading and usually got placed in the slower reading groups.
But my love for information and a good story overcame my difficulties. Despite my challenges with school-related readings, I started reading books on my own. I always loved library day, and I would check out books from the A New True Book series to learn about different kinds of animals and dinosaurs and whatever else I was interested in at the moment. They fed my information addiction like a 1980s children’s version of Wikipedia. At night I read stories by my nightlight when my parents though thought I was asleep. I had a variety of storybooks and an illustrated book of surprisingly graphic Bible stories that my dad used to read from. This one quickly became my favorite, and when Dad’s job got too busy for him to keep up with family readings, I started reading it on my own.
Before long, I was moving on to bigger and better books, and my school librarian guided me to the mythology section. I read everything in it. Then I spent a while devouring Choose Your Own Adventure books.
For summer vacations, I would ride my bike down to the park, and then to the pool, and then I’d go to the public library in damp swim trunks with the moisture soaking through the bottom of my T-shirt. I checked out how-to books, and I read about all kinds of different crafts and artwork, drawing, origami, and making neat toys out of junk. I also read even more about animals and some of my favorite books were the ones about where to catch critters and how to keep them alive in homemade habitats.
Those first years of reading were great, and I enjoyed them very much, but as I got older I moved on to different kinds of books. At the age of twelve, I spent a day at my Aunt Tina’s house and I told her how I planned to read The Hobbit and then The Lord of the Rings because one of my friends had suggested it. She put the conversation on hold as she ran into a different room to dig in her closet, and she came back with a bare green hardback copy of The Silmarillion. I’ll never know what the dust jacket looked like. “This is what came before The Hobbit,” she told me. She let me borrow it, and I read the whole thing before I read any of the other books. How, as a twelve-year-old, I had the patience for dry reading like The Silmarillion, I can only attribute to my previous readings of mythology and the Bible. I quickly moved on to Tolkien’s other works, and finished off the entire Tolkien section of my middle school’s library, including Farmer Giles of Ham and his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
Following Tolkien, I made a deal with one of my friends that if he read The Hobbit, I would read Mossflower by Brian Jacques. I loved it for the anthropomorphic rodent heroes, and I read every other book that was available from the Redwall series. Even better was Watership Down. After that, I became an indiscriminate sci-fi/fantasy junkie, which continued throughout my high school years.
Strangely enough, I very seldom enjoyed the “literature” I was assigned to read for school. I won’t hate on A Separate Peace or The Great Gatsby too much, but I never got myself interested in them enough to match the enthusiasm that my English teachers had. I was never assigned to read Hemingway, so naturally, he became my favorite literary author. Of all the things I was assigned to read in high school, the only two I really appreciated were Grendel and To Kill a Mockingbird. I obsessed over the dragon’s lecture to Grendel, trying to puzzle out all the big words and make sense of what my teacher had summed up as “a bunch of gobbledegook”.
Like Susie, I joined in academic competition and got to read and analyze a few literary works. The one I remember best was Antigone. I don’t know if it was the work itself or just that particular translation, but I found it moving. Other than these few exceptions, though, I spent most of my time in high school reading pulp sci-fi and fantasy novels. If I could have unread all the Terry Brooks books and been given the time back to socialize, perhaps the Virginity Fairy would have relieved me of my V-card much sooner.
Near the end of my high school days, my friend Eric introduced me to Stephen King by getting me The Shining as a Christmas gift. I got a few chapters into it before my dad confiscated it for religious reasons. Undaunted, I read ‘Salem’s Lot, keeping it discreetly hidden.
Given my unwillingness to read most assigned books, I really wonder what possessed me to major in English when I started college. Nevertheless, I did. During my years at Indiana State, I hardly had time to read anything that wasn’t part of the curriculum. It turned out that this was my time to finally gain an appreciation for some of the classics. I tore up Things Fall Apart by recently departed Chinua Achebe. I also loved me some Nathaniel Hawthorne, Bram Stoker, and Mark Twain. Over the summer between my freshman and sophomore years, I decided to embrace my heritage and read the Bible from cover to cover. I liked Ecclesiastes the most. At that time in my life, it was comforting to know that everything is meaningless.
I kept reading and working my way toward a degree in English literature. I was required to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for a pop culture class. I followed the morbid misadventures of Bigger Thomas in Native Son, and I finally got a lesson in Chaucer where the professor assigned the Miller’s Tale.
Not all of my reading was in English. For my classical studies courses, I translated Ovid, Vergil, and Catullus into English. I especially liked Catullus. His love affair with Lesbia mirrored my own heartbreaking college romance, so I really related to the euphoric poems at first, and the miserable ones later.
I graduated and took a break from reading literature for a while. Instead I read self-help books about business as I tried to find my way in the world. Thinking journalism to be a viable option for making a living, I started reading magazines and newspapers more than books.
In the decade since college, my appreciation for books has continued to develop. For whatever reason, I did Cliff’s Notes on A Tale of Two Cities. (I had blown it off to read Fight Club and Choke.) I remembered that the lecture made it sound interesting, so I went back and read it years after I graduated. I read the remainder of the Harry Potter series after the last book finally came out. I also discovered Gregory McGuire, Christopher Moore, and George R.R. Martin. Finally, my best friend Eric–the same one who got me The Shining–talked me into reading The Gunslinger. I shirked a lot of my personal responsibilities as I got sucked into that world. Not long after, I began my love affair with audiobooks. I usually listen to books I’ve already read, but occasionally I listen to something completely new, especially if it’s non-fiction. I’ve done On Becoming a Leader, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and Pimsleur courses for Cantonese and Japanese.
My most recent discovery is Haruki Murakami. I just finished Norwegian Wood, and I have The Wind-up Bird Chronicle in my to-read queue.
So there it is: Tony’s dirty, dirty past as a bookslut. What about you, fellow booksluttians? Did we read any of the same books? How did you come to be a bookslut?