Sunday, September 20, 2009

Locked In at the Library

The other night, My Prince & I were talking about books, as we often do, mostly because books are one of my favorite things. They are not necessarily as high on his priority list as they are on mine, but I am proud to say that he has read a lot more since we've been together, & he's even agreed to read a lot of my favorite childhood books that he's realized he missed out on. There are a lot of things that I don't love about my in-laws, but the fact that they somehow completely overlooked the importance of instilling a love of reading in their children - well, that's a big strike against them, in my book.

I've accumulated something like twenty boxes of books over the last few years, which are currently unopened - the only boxes that have yet to be unpacked in our new house. Frankly, until we have enough bookshelves to shelve them on, I'm not even entertaining the idea of just stacking them up in the office. There are already about a dozen stacks of books there, many of which are books that have been read but are just too good to get rid of. & we purged a good deal of books that weren't too good to get rid of!

I don't remember ever not reading. My mama claims that I pretty much taught myself to read around the age of two. I can't argue with her because my mama is not given to exaggeration (at all), & I don't actually remember learning to read. I just know that I was very, very embarrassed when my aunt introduced me to my new first-grade class, in my new school, as "an exceptionally smart little girl that would have been skipping a grade if she were staying at her old school. In fact, she reads at a seventh grade level."

Try making new friends after that.

Fortunately, the smart-alecky boy behind me, who became a very good friend, knocked me down a few pegs rather quickly, after learning that I couldn't tie my shoes. Once we established that he'd be tying my shoes, & I'd be helping him with his reading work, I was able to work my way in to the elementary social order of my rural town.

(I'm just grateful that I didn't have to transfer in during junior high, which always seemed to be nightmarish for people. I doubt many of my friends from high school even remember that I didn't attend kindergarten with them.)

I read
on the playground,
at the dinner table,
in the car,
in bed,
in bubble baths,
in the lunchroom,
at the pool (before it was cool to lay out & read),
at church,
Pretty much anywhere that I could pull out (or sneak in) a book, I read.

So, back to that discussion that My Prince & I were having. I was recalling one particular teacher that I had in the second grade. Second grade was the grade that we began going to a different teacher's classroom for reading class. We didn't switch for any other classes until fourth grade, but I was absolutely delighted&thrilled to be able to walk to a different classroom, to read more challenging books with different classmates. & my reading teacher - she was amazing!

Mrs. Les Paul recognized pretty quickly that "voracious" didn't even begin to describe my appetite for books. I do not recall another teacher that so candidly catered to my habit, but Mrs. Les Paul allowed me to read pretty much whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, so long as I had already finished whatever had been assigned. My Prince couldn't believe that this teacher actually let me bring in a pillow & keep it under her desk, which is where she let me curl up & read books. I read all the ones in her classroom, kept a regular stack checked out from both the public&school libraries, & bought as many as my mother would let me on our shopping excursions.

(These days, my tendency to prefer books to playing my classmates' games would probably get some kind of special label put on me, but back then I was just considered "gifted." & I made friends just fine, most of which tolerated my bookworm habits just fine, although they still tease me for it, to this day.)

But one of my most vivid book-related memories from childhood was the special night that the aforementioned reading teacher planned for her reading students. My mother & several of my friends' mothers served as chaperones, the teacher brought her husband&daughter, & we SPENT THE NIGHT in the public LIBRARY! Can you think of a more suitable place for a sleepover? Me neither!

It was wonderful. There were scavenger hunts, where clues were hidden in various books, & I'm almost certain my little team won at least one of them. Pizzas were ordered, & the moms had brought homemade cookies. I remember that a movie was put on in one room at some point during the evening, & a lot of the kids fell asleep in front of the television. A lot of students didn't make it all night, having either already arranged for their parents to come get them at a certain time, or calling their parents after having woken at 2am in a strange place.

But that may well have been my very first all-nighter (of many). I clearly remember the sun coming up. I remember going to bed in my bed at home, the next morning, after breakfast. In fact, I think I was pretty impressed with myself that I had a heart-to-heart with a fourth-grader (the teacher's daughter) at something like 1am, before even she left & went home with her daddy to go to bed. (& I remain friends with her to this day.)

My mama had gone to sleep on a sofa that the moms were taking shifts on in the library. She & my teacher had checked on me several times throughout the night to make sure I was okay.

& I was more than okay! I was the happiest kid ever! I roamed from room to room, reading different books in different places.

I probably read six books over the course of that night. I know that I read at least one of the Ramona books that night, as well as one of those books about the platonic boy&girl friends that lived in the same apartment building in the city...oh, what were their names? (This will drive me crazy!)

Of course, these days that kind of event would probably never be allowed (or even considered). For a lot of reasons. But this isn't a soapbox, & I don't want to taint such a lovely memory.

I am quite sure that I would be just as happy today to be locked in at the library. I'd hope that I could still read my way through that many books, but my choices have become considerably longer since the second grade. I still read pretty much anywhere that I can, although those places are a lot fewer & farther between now.

I only hope that I can do as great a job as my mama (& a few teachers) did in encouraging my daughter to read...& not just to read, but to really, truly love to read in the same passionate way that I did (& do).

A great book doesn't just provide a means for escape or fill a void with something to pass the time. A great book makes you feel, identify, & think - not just with the characters, while you're reading - but also after the book is finished, when you're living.

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