Recently, I read an article called “Are You a Reader?” by Karin Perry. Perry discusses how librarians read and how they can help kids become readers. One section of her article was especially fascinating:
“One way Dr. Lesesne and I get our MLS students thinking about their reading lives is to assign a Reading Autobiography. We ask them to think about how they interacted with books during various times of their lives. By understanding what made them like and dislike reading, they will be more aware of what and what not to do with students.”
I want in on this Reading Autobiography project. Today I want to share a few of the books that have either been important to me or shaped me as a reader.
The Little Engine That Could and Green Eggs and Ham are my two earliest book memories. I recall reading the latter by myself when I was four or five, and I haven’t stopped picking up books since. Reading was a constant part of my life. Well into my teenage years, my mom always took me to the library. We lived in a small Kansas town when I was a little kid, and we’d visit the one and only branch. They sold plastic book bags for a few cents, and I’d get to pick out a new bag every time and fill it up. As I look back, something I’m grateful for is that I always got to pick whatever I wanted. Whether I was six or sixteen, I don’t ever remember my mom hovering around me, trying to get me to read this or that. I was always allowed to choose whatever books I wanted. I believe choice is vital in helping kids become lifelong readers.
When I started reading chapter books, I thoroughly enjoyed the mysteries of The Boxcar Children. (The weird plot of four kids growing up alone in a train didn’t bother me then.) While I liked Boxcar, I loved The Baby-Sitters Club. There were hundreds of these, and I bet I’ve read most of them. Looking back on this series as an adult, I’m impressed with what Ann M. Martin accomplished. This series is about a group of girls becoming entrepreneurs. They make their own money and demonstrate responsibility. Martin covers topics like divorce, death, and sickness in ways that seem real yet appropriate for her readers. I was thrilled to see this series get the graphic novel treatment since it gives a new generation of kids a chance to discover the joy of the BSC.
Since the Baby-Sitters Club series was so popular, a couple of spinoff series were launched, including California Diaries. I read these books as a tween, and I could not get enough. I was fascinated by the diary format and knew for sure that California was a whole lot more interesting than Kansas. I’ve never heard anyone else talk about this series, so I’m not sure how popular it was. I loved it enough for several people, though, and still own a few of the books.
Columbine happened around the time I was reading Martin’s books. I still remember watching the news and seeing students flee the school. I was shocked by the violence and enthralled by the stories that came out after the massacre took place. As a Christian, the stories of Cassie Bernall and Rachel Scott mesmerized me. I read She Said Yes and Rachel’s Tears over and over again. (If you want to read an excellent study of Columbine and it’s aftermath, check out Dave Cullen’s Columbine.)
As a kid, all I wanted to be was an adult. I had a wonderful childhood, but I was more interested in adult matters than most kids my age. I remember my mom reading a Nicholas Sparks book, and I asked if I could read it. She said sure, and I started immediately. I was reading an adult book. I thought that was the best thing that had ever happened to me. Shortly after discovering Sparks, I turned to John Grisham thanks to my brother’s recommendation. My early high school years were full of books about lawyers and people in love dying. I loved every suspenseful, sob-inducing minute.
In my late teens and early twenties, I wanted depth in my books. I’d moved away from Sparks and Grisham toward anything I thought looked profound based on a cursory glance at the cover when I was at the library. (I found some good books that way, so judging by the cover isn’t always bad.) Two of the books I loved most during this time are Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle and Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. Both of these texts gave me the depth I wanted and spoke to me about art, doubt, faith, and how all three of those can intersect. L’Engle’s thoughts were especially powerful at the time. Walking on Water is still precious to me because that book made me feel seen.
In college, I majored in English with a minor in history. Being assigned several hundred pages of reading a week between all of my classes was normal. As is often the case, college stretched me in profound and lasting ways, including my reading life.
I was assigned Till We Have Faces in a course on the philosophy of C. S. Lewis and thought I was going to hate it. Instead, I was captivated by the myth Lewis retells and was struck by his powerful thoughts on beauty and longing. I took a poetry class and needed to have a copy of The Norton Anthology of Poetry. I resold a lot of my college textbooks, but I’ve kept this one. In its pages, I discovered my beloved John Donne and found that beautiful poem of Margaret Atwood’s that I analyzed for a paper (this one). In a contemporary literature class, I read Paradise by Toni Morrison. Though I considered myself widely read, I’d never read anything like Morrison before, and I still haven’t. Her voice is uniquely hers.