It’s hard to believe that there was once a time in my life when I hated books. I hate to admit that because I love books so much now – I eat them up for dinner while exclaiming loudly to the world, “I am the live action Belle! Here me roar!” However much I want to hide this fact, it’s true, I used to hate books. When I look back now, the memory of it all is distorted and even the corners of the visions in my head have frayed with shadows looming over the edges of the picture.
How did the hatred begin? Was it a true inability to read? A lack of imagination? Sometimes I think that maybe my problem was that I didn’t have enough patience and definitely zero interest in having to sit still while reading. I was a very active child growing up. If I wasn’t climbing trees and walking along the tops of brick garden walls, then I was leading my younger siblings and cousins in a game of “let’s pretend we are a family of explorers in the jungle” or I was putting on dance performances throughout the neighborhood. Somehow my personality completely switched as I grew older. I went from being the child who never sat still and was always moving and talking and screaming, “hey, look what I can do!” to being an adult who just wants to stay home and read a book or go out to a coffee shop and write. The flip in personalities wasn’t even gradual for me – it happened almost overnight. How did this happen?
I blame books. Yes, I love them now, but I am going to blame them completely for making me into the introverted homebody type of person that I have become. Books made me sit still. Books made me stop moving. But I guess it wasn’t so much “made me” but more of “tempted, courted, swooned, and swept me off my feet” into another world of imagination. Once I was swept off my feet, I dived right in and I’ve never looked back.
You see. Once it was discovered that I wouldn’t read books, my mom and my teachers decided that this was going to be a real problem. I don’t think they even really knew what the problem was. Maybe I couldn’t even physically read? Or, maybe I was just too stubborn to give in and show everyone that I could read? Whatever the case, once it became apparent that I was going to fall behind because I wouldn’t or couldn’t read, everyone became really focused and very intense about making sure I knew how to read.
I do remember the exact moment that my lack of reading became apparent. I was supposed to read this book from 1965 called “The Story of Mount Vernon” and then write a book report on what I had learned. First of all, why was I reading a book from 1965? Who really knows… But the pictures were fun and I did think George Washington was cool, so it probably was a book that I had found in my grandmother’s book shelves and then decided I was going to read it for my book report. Of course, I didn’t read the book because who has time for that when they are a busy-body little 1st or 2nd grader. So when it came time to turn in the book report, I simply copied paragraphs from the book onto my lined school paper and off I went to turn in my homework. I felt so smart – like I had really fooled everyone.
Except, I didn’t really, and shame on me for thinking that at 6 or 7 years old my intelligence was higher than both my mother and my teachers. At our next monthly appointment with the homeschool teacher, the gavel came down and the judgement was given: all attention was to now be focused on my reading (in)abilities. For my mother, the writer and the master of overly detailed sentences filled with word fluff, this was the ultimate embarrassment upon her household and she immediately decided that no cost would be wasted on her new personal quest: “Force Anastasia to Read Even if it Means Beginning World War III”.
At least that’s how her new little hobby presented itself to me. This is another part of my memory that is faded – did I not read books because I knew that if I pretended I couldn’t read it would make her angry? Probably, it’s pretty likely that part of the problem was that I did not even want to try because of her love of words and books and writing. All of a sudden books were being forced upon me and my mom was actually taking away the math books and study pages and saying that I couldn’t touch that part of my homework until I completed my reading for the day. Oh the horror! Back then I loved math. Math and I became mortal enemies in middle school and it continued well through college and now we tolerate each other. Back then, we were best friends.
What happened? Books! It’s all the books fault.
One day, Hooked On Phonics arrived at the house and I was intrigued to the point of wanting to open the box and pull everything out and play with it because my mom said they were for me and not for my sisters because, yes, I can be a spoiled brat in that way. I was the only child in my entire family for three years, what do you want from me?! It was just that little bit of intrigue that got me and there I was, very literally Hooked On Phonics. Here begins the rest of my life, or shall I say the end of my outgoing personality life? I’ve always said that Hooked On Phonics saved my life but really it saved me from having to repeat a grade in elementary school.
Initially the change was gradual. I gave into the idea of loving writing and reading and I became obsessed with writing my own fantasy and fiction stories and poems. Books were interesting to me and I was already harboring a deep love affair with historical fiction, but it was only here and there that you would find me with a book in my hand. In truth, Hooked On Phonics brought me to love writing. I felt confident about it because I had made it my own thing and writing could now be my best friend to be proud about and not just the friend from down the block that my mom was trying to force me to play with. (We have all had this happen to us at least once in our lives, don’t deny it.)
And then one day, in 6th grade, my teacher handed me “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and my life was forever changed. Or rather, everything else I did in my life was forever over. From this point on, everything very literally took a backseat to my books. I became Belle with her head always stuck in a book overnight and I was full steam ahead to becoming an addict. The only thing that was more important to me were my ballet classes, and even then I was sometimes late because I had gotten stuck in the never ending loop of “must keep reading, must keep reading, must keep reading.”
While Hooked On Phonics might have saved me from an eternal life of hating words, and for that I am forever grateful, J.K. Rowling came in and welcomed me into her world of Harry, Ron, and Hermione and gave me the ability to escape the ugliness in life that was beginning to form. After I finished the first book, I jumped straight into “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” and when that was over there were no new books for me to read, so what did I do? I found the first book with a cover that looked interesting and I sank my teeth into it’s pages with all of the ferocity and hunger that J.K. Rowling had ignited; and from there on, the flame only grew and grew until it was a full fledged forest fire of reading.
It’s true that in a sense, my imagination died the moment books took over – but not completely; the only part that died was the part that caused me to run outside and create a full fledged play of drama between Barbies. I still wrote like crazy, because teenage hormones are real, guys. Especially when you are a teen with a troubled family life and already a leaning towards the dramatic and emotional side of feelings because you come from an artistic family. As the plays and dance performances and wild imaginary play times ended, my writing flared up and roared very strongly through high school. I was now quieter and more reserved, but probably because I was always so tired from staying up all night in order to get to the ending of my book faster.
Books have done a lot for me over the years from making life long friend connections over books and giving me more knowledge about the world and people. (Hello well written history books and autobiographies! I’m looking right at you!) However, nothing can take away from what they did for me in the very beginning of my junkie book life. When I first dove into Harry Potter, my family was in the middle of a very long and hard year. This wasn’t the first time that drug abuse had taken my dad away; but, for the first time he was taken all the way up the coast to where Oregon meets California and he wasn’t going to come back in just a couple of months. As he so fondly calls it, it was his “year long sabbatical” and there were going to be no visits from his wife and five children. (Sorry baby sister, but you were still half a decade away from being born.)
We were completely dependent upon our grandparents in North Hollywood and always relying on Omi in Northridge. Which is a hard place to be in when tensions have already been high for the last couple of years because you were forced to move out of your house and move in with relatives. I was coming into my teenage years with no space of my own or even a bed that I didn’t have to share. Depending on the schedules of school, dance, auditions, and art classes or the way all of the adults felt about each other, we could be in North Hollywood one day but then in Northridge the next and then who knew when we would be back in North Hollywood.
Life during these years was hard and the real rough stuff was only just beginning to ramp up. I had dance to distract me and fulfill me during the afternoons, but being homeschooled, I was faced with the very real and ugly truths of our lives constantly. I needed a distraction. I needed something that pulled me out of the house and up onto the roof of the playhouse in the backyard, where I could hide behind the trees and read or write and be completely pulled out of my ugly world and into another place far away from where I sat. Books and writing did that for me.
Hopefully, Jude never needs Hooked On Phonics as badly as his momma did. I don’t ever want him to look at words the way I did – as a chore. I’ll never really know what was going on in that little head of mine to make me struggle with reading so much. All I can do with Jude is try to incorporate books and stories into his life with as much patience and love as I have to give.
It’s not about him falling in love with it because it was my thing or because I once read 63 books in a year, but because I want it to become his own thing so that his own story with words grows and becomes his own unique passion. Let it be small, let it be large – let him read a book every few months or let him become the next Stephen King. That is all for him to discover and decide. I only want to be the person that always believes that no book is ever too advanced for my little boy. I’ve been reading to him since he was only a week old and I’ll keep reading to him until he takes the book from my hands and says, “Let me try, momma.”
And while I know Jude will never have the childhood that I was dealt, I know that there is no escaping the fact that he will have troubles in life – it’s not something that Philip and I can keep him from as much as we try. We can be the most amazing parents ever but there will still be struggles that come his way. My prayer for this little boy of ours is that he will always know exactly where to turn to when life gets tough. That he will find his strength in the Lord, that he will always feel comfortable to ask us for advice, and that when he needs a place to let his imagination soar free and light, he will find books and a blank piece of paper ready and waiting for him.