a reading life.

Last year during the Easter season, I wrote my Credo statement about the power of stories to connect us and teach us the truths of the world. I have been thinking lately about my passions, and I think I chose wisely when I said that “story as truth” is one of my foundational beliefs. I thought that one way to help myself answer some of my difficult questions would be to write about some of the stories that have impacted me. So this is the intro to that occasional series.

Books

Books by shutterhacks. Used under a Creative Commons license.

My parents gave me the gift of story. Even as a child, I saw myself in the books that we read: blowing dandelion seeds into the air with Nicholas the bunny, being afraid of the haunted house like Arthur, feeling Lucy’s rejection by Edmund. Some of my most vivid childhood memories are of wandering the shelves at the public library. Through books I met new people, saw new places, and was introduced to new ideas. Those stories rooted themselves in my heart and have stayed with me over the years. It was a gift much greater than I knew at the time.

We had a Bible story book when I was growing up, a big hefty one with black-and-white illustrations. I pored over the pages of the book, learning about Abraham and Isaac and the ram, about Daniel in the lion’s den, about Shadrach, Mesach, and Abednego. I read the story of Jacob and Esau and the bowl of stew. Being a fair-minded individual, I thought that Jacob had done nothing wrong. Esau made his choice and made the trade. I was fascinated by Queen Esther, but she wasn’t as interesting as I would have liked, only allowed to talk to her husband if he permitted it. She didn’t even come up with the idea for saving all the people on her own. In Sunday school, I said enough memory verses to earn myself a different Bible story book, one with a story for every day of the year. I didn’t like this one as much, even though its color pictures were brighter and more interesting. I was disappointed that all my hard work went to that book when we had one that I liked better. Mom read my new one to Joseph at night.

I only ever owned one Dr. Seuss book: Hop on Pop. It was from reading that book that I decided that my favorite word would be snack. It’s still my favorite word. My dad had a large stomach similar to the dad in the story. I would have liked to try hopping on it, but he made it clear that would not be allowed. He did let us play catch in the living room, though. It seemed like a fair trade.

My great-aunt Margaret mailed me a copy of Charlotte’s Web from New York City. New York City! In it was a card that said that she had been friends with E.B. White. I did not know at the time how amazing that was, but I remember lying on our orange-and-avocado couch and devouring the story. I did not cry. But I was sad when Fern became too big to spend time in the barn. If you can hear the animals talk, why would you give up such a gift? For boys?

One night at bedtime, my mom read the first chapter of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I took the book and finished it on my own. After that, I mostly read on my own. It was so much faster that way. Mom took me to the library to get books, and that was enough. For Christmas, I got the entire set of Narnia books. I liked them all, but I was surprised when someone told me there was a Christian message. I just liked the stories.

I graduated to books like Ramona. Besides being fair-minded, I was also a rule-follower, so I was sympathetic to Beezus. When she got her terrible haircut, I took it as a personal blow. Ramona should not have gotten the heart-shaped haircut and stolen her thunder. When I was much too young to do so, I read Judy Blume without understanding a good percentage of what was happening. I had an idea that it wasn’t something that should be talked about, though, so I saved up my questions, mentally checking them off in the years to come as I discovered what certain things meant. Judy Blume’s books were important to people my age for a lot of different reasons. For me, she was the introduction to the idea that books are the safest way to learn about something. No one laughed at me for not understanding. I was safe between the pages.

My best friend gave me Anne of Green Gables for my ninth birthday. And then she moved away the next day. I was disappointed on both counts. What kind of best friend gives a book? Shouldn’t I have gotten something more fun? After the first few pages, which had words like “wont” without the apostrophe, I got the hang of the story. I spent the next few years talking like Anne, calling people kindred spirits. The day that we discovered that there were more Anne books was a great one for me. I imagine my parents were dismayed that the Anne-ish-ness would be extended.

As kids that age do, I spent a lot of time reading series fiction. The Baby-Sitters’ Club, Sweet Valley High. I also read Christian series fiction. The characters spent a lot of time quoting Bible verses and praying for God to work things out. He usually did. Someone always prayed the sinner’s prayer and accepted Jesus into their lives. These stories were more fantastic to me than Bible stories were. Their problems were always solved in such a short amount of time! And they always had such great clothes and cute hair! They were more like the popular kids at church. I didn’t know how to be cute and popular, but I tried getting up early to read my Bible, in case that would help.

For my 10th birthday, my aunt gave me a stack of Newbery books. Things like The Witch of Blackbird Pond and It’s Like This, Cat. My favorite was Bridge to Terabithia. It was so different than the Christian books I read. The characters went to church and knew about God, but bad things didn’t disappear. Leslie didn’t become a Christian like she would have in those other books.

When I read The Baby-Sitters’ Club, I was around 11 years old. I loved it when Mallory and Jessie were added to the club, because then there were girls my age! Mallory was my favorite, because I related to her bookishness. Years later, I learn that Mallory is considered “the annoying one.”

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