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A Love of Reading

When I was in second grade I got assigned the "mean" teacher at my school. I was terrified of starting her class, but on the first day, Mrs. Ernst stood in the doorway to welcome students. When I approached her, she leaned down and asked my name. I told her, and she asked, "Do you like to read Abigail?" I felt a flutter in my tiny chest and nodded, "I think we're going to have a good year then," she told me. Reading has been a passion for as long as I can remember. Before I knew I wanted to be a writer, I was a reader. My family has a million stories about me and reading, including being the only person I know who has been grounded from books. It makes me wonder where this love of reading came from. I feel like all writers are first hungry readers.

My love of reading most likely came from my mom. Growing up, you could always find my mom sitting on the landing in the crook of the stairs of our house. I never understood why she liked to lay there, with her feet propped against the wall and her head on a step. It seemed woefully uncomfortable, but looking back I wonder if it was a nice spot to listen to us play while still being in her own space. She would lay there for hours, reading. A lot of people talk about growing up surrounded by books, but I don't remember us having a lot of books in the house. My mom is a big believer in giving books away. She doesn't hoard them in a library like I do. She would read one, and if she loved it, she gave it to a friend. If she didn't love it, she would donate it somewhere. Books weren't precious relics to keep on a shelf, they were living things to be consumed and then shared.

I remember my mom reading aloud to me as a child. I don't know how often we would do this, but I remember reading Roald Dahl's "Twits," and "The BFG." We read "The Secret Garden" which I hated and "Harry Potter" which I loved. Despite growing up with the Harry Potter books, and the last one coming out my senior year of high school, my mom and I read every single one aloud together. She lost her voice reading the third one because my brother and I kept begging for one more chapter.

As I got older reading became a part of my identity. I was never without a book, and it was almost like a badge of honor. I was the "smart kid" with my nose always in a book. I would bring one with me everywhere on the off chance I might have a second to finish a few pages. I feel like so many of us writers start out that way. Consuming page after page, letting each one seep in as part of our identity. I let the books I read form me into the person I was, influenced by every character. I was the kid in school who refused to do the reading tests in the library because they were dumb. I wrote book reports instead. I was insufferable to some extent. Weren't we all at twelve?

I ponder where this love of reading came from because it occurs to me how many people don't have it. Take my brother for example, who grew up in the same household as me and had the same influences I did. He is intelligent, curious, and empathetic as many readers are. He's read plenty of books, and much faster than I do, but he isn't "a reader." It's not that he doesn't like books, he just doesn't have an insatiable need for them like I do. Most people don't continue to read books outside of school and that's so baffling to me. Both as a reader and someone who hopes to publish a book someday. What makes gives someone that need to read?

If it was simply parental influence, then all my siblings would be readers, but they aren't. If it was simply a desire for escape, then gamers and artists would read as much as they consumed their other methods for imaginative adventures. So what makes someone actively choose books? Is there a way someone who is a non-reader can become a reader? (I absolutely think so, though I have little evidence of this.) Is being a "reader" simple about a desire to read? Is it something you have to train your brain to want, like working out?

I don't think I became a reader because of my mom, but I do think she made me a lover of stories. That would make more sense because my brother is also a lover of stories. He loves video games and D&D. He loves getting immersed in other worlds, just not necessarily through books. I think I became a reader because I have the ability to see the pictures clear as day in my head. Sometimes when I'm reading, I truly forget where I am and feel as though I am watching a movie. In school, I used to get laughed at because when I was reading, no one could reach me. They would call my name and I would hear nothing. Still, when I read, I feel the things the characters do. My heart quickens when the character's does and my face tries to mimic the expressions they're described having. I do the same thing when I write. Sometimes acting out what a character might be doing so I can translate it into text.

I'm then led to wonder if my love of reading, and this ability to see the words so clearly, is also what fuels my need to write. Just like with reading, it's more than a hobby or passion, it's a need. I have a deep ache to consume books, and an incurable desire to write them. I can't live without either of these things. My family always knows when I haven't been making time to write because I'm sadder, and more withdrawn into myself. Like if I don't get the words and feelings onto the page, they just fester inside of me. The same can be said for reading. I feel lighter, and happier when I'm reading something. Right now I'm reading three books at once and I feel incredible. Taking in the different worlds fuels my soul in the same way creating my own does.

It's said that to be a good writer, you have to be a reader. I think this probably comes from the idea that you have to study the medium and be sure you're either fitting the conventions of it or deliberately breaking them in a meaningful way. I can always tell which of my writing students are readers because they format like it's second nature. There are things about writing you can only learn from reading. Things like pacing and character development. Sure you can watch a lecture about these things, but they don't seep into your soul, into your writing, without living them through books. Reading is an inevitable part of writing.

Even when it comes to publishing, you have to be a reader. When you market your manuscript, you have to have comparable titles to your story. You have to know what's happening in your genre, what's selling, and where your book might fit on the shelf. You have to know how your story both blends in and stands out from those around it. Reading is an inherent part of the writing industry because without readers, what's the point?

I don't know how to grow more readers. I believe there is a book out there for everyone. One that will make them feel seen and understood. There are any number of books that might start someone out on their journey to becoming a reader no matter what age that journey starts. So many people are born into a book desert with no one to show them how to have the patience to read, or else they are forced to read books that have nothing to do with them in school and are left with a distaste for the whole thing. I hope whatever the secret formula is to become a reader, more people discover it and share it. I hope the books I write might help someone get on that path and open their world to the endless possibilities books offer us.

Reading on a tour of Boston in 2006

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