I am supposed to be kicking off the next series of posts on "the book everyone read before me." Well... I'm sure you don't have time to read a novel on this topic, and I don't have time to write one, so suffice it to say that my list is very long.
I have written many times about how I was a voracious reader as a kid and was cured of my habit by being forced in middle and high school to plow through the "classics." I am a slow reader, a picky reader, and now that I am a grown-up, I choose to use my limited time to read only what I enjoy. Sue me.
My grandmother shared a room with me from the time I was six to the time I was twelve. She was functionally illiterate and highly disapproved of the time I spent with my nose buried in a book when I could be sweeping, dusting, or learning to cook. (To this day, I relish the fact that I don't sweep, dust, or cook.) My mom also did not read for leisure, though she enjoyed reading aloud to me. I had a few of the old-time classics on my shelf, and I very much wanted to like them. Hans Brinker (boring -- but pretty pictures); The Wind in the Willows (talking animals? only E.B. White could make me believe); I never even got through Winnie the Pooh. After several unsuccessful attempts to read my way through the 19th century, and I made my peace and happily cast aside the (not-)dusty old tomes for Mitch and Amy and the Bobbsey Twins. I must say, I never looked back.
My mom tells the story of changing schools in sixth grade and being enthralled by Moby-Dick as read aloud to the class by her new teacher. We read Billy Budd in high school, and I promptly crossed Moby-Dick off my to-read list. My dad (who is a reader's reader) raved about The Last of the Mohicans, and I did make it through that one -- only to wonder why I'd bothered. To Kill a Mockingbird was the only book I forced myself through during this period that was memorable to me for its magnificence.
I actually believe that the male-centricness of the "canon" is a big part of my problem. While I can appreciate his brilliance, I can't say I'm a fan of macho Hemingway. Whaling and warring are frankly not relatable or interesting to me. At some point, I looked at War and Peace and Anna Karenina on the shelf in their thousand-page splendor and realized that, as a writer, I would need to know these stories; but I couldn't hack getting through them. Thank God for movies!
Of course I could write a whole new post about the movies/TV shows I've never seen (inexcusable in a TV writer)... The older I get, the shorter my attention span. Since having kids, I can only consume information in small bites -- while working, while on the elliptical, while someone is talking in my ear. I listen to a book on tape in the car, and my attention wanders. Kids' books are the perfect reads for me right now -- maybe forever.
My 1st-grade daughter has just begun to read without prompting, totally for pleasure. I noticed that she would still prefer to choose a long and potentially tricky picture book (i.e., Eloise) than a chapter book that requires more steady effort. Like me, she appears to be a serial starter (poor thing). However, as of this weekend, I think Beezus and Ramona has got her. :)
Happy week, and happy reading to all! -- Jeanne Marie