One of the only negative parent-teacher conferences I ever had as a student was with my seventh grade English and history teacher. Unbeknownst to me, she knew I’d been reading under my desk almost constantly in her class. I had discovered Anne McCaffrey wrote A LOT more books than I originally thought, and I was devouring anything by her I could get my hands on. So much for me being sneaky about it! My mom, I think, was more amused than mad at me, although I did have promise not to read in class anymore.
I have loved to read for as long as I can remember. In one of my scholarship essays, I wrote about reading as something I really enjoyed.
“Reading opens up any world I choose; it’s a way for me to see other people’s point of view and learn their stories. There are books that require thought and analysis and challenge my perceptions, like Beloved. This kind of book changes how I think about myself and others, and inspires me to act on my newly acquired understanding. These books are not always easy to read, but they’re hugely rewarding because they have depth and themes that recur universally throughout life.
But reading can also be purely for pleasure, to take a break from reality and experience something completely different. There are books that are fun, like Twilight. They probably won’t change how I think or inspire me to do great things, but they make me laugh and not take myself too seriously, which is just as important. Other books are comfortable because I’ve reread them so many times; it’s like visiting old friends and reminiscing together.
I remember the first word I read in kindergarten: love. It was an appropriate first word to read because since that moment, I haven’t stopped. Reading has many roles in my life; the wide spectrum of possibilities is why I love it.”
In the interview process for that scholarship, one of the questions I remember was about this essay. One interview had noticed the incredible amount of time I poured into ski racing – upwards of 35 hours per week – and asked why I didn’t write about ski racing as the thing I enjoyed. I had to think for a minute. I hadn’t chosen to write about ski racing for any of my five essays for that application. Finally I told the panel that I did love ski racing. But ski racing is dependent on seasons, location, and having functional knees. It’s not something everyone can do, and I knew it wasn’t going to be something I could do forever. Stories unite people. Anyone can learn to read. It’s something I’ll have my entire life, and it’s purpose in my life will never change.
When I was in elementary and middle school, I used to imagine myself into the worlds I read about even once the book was no longer in my hand. I was a pioneer girl and sister to Laura Ingalls Wilder. I swam with dolphins and ran with wolves, I journeyed across the world, all while walking along side my mom in the grocery story.
(Alright, let me be really honest here. I still make up stories as I’m doing dishes or sorting papers or driving between Boulder and Longmont. This Friday evening, as I made dinner for Mom, I was imagining that I was the owner of a bed and breakfast in the Swiss Alps. If my imagination ever stops, I think life will be deeply boring.)
I love discovering new worlds and stories, but I also love rereading books. Like I mentioned in my essay, it’s like meeting up with old friends and reminiscing. Often I feel like I can see my younger self reading the books, and it’s fun to remember what I noticed and cared about the first time I read the book. But I’ve also noticed that as I’ve grown, some books’ meanings have changed or deepened for me. Some books (like Twilight) I’ve outgrown and likely won’t go back to. But all the books in the lead picture are books that have traveled with me from Steamboat to the many places I’ve lived within Boulder. Some of them even made the journey to Sweden and Panama. I love these characters and stories and the things I learn (and relearn) as I read them. Each of these books means something special to me.
(Those books are, from left to right on top, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling, Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey, The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine, Picabo: Nothing to Hide by Picabo Street, and on bottom The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, The Ancient One by TA Barron, East of Eden by John Steinbeck, Naya Nuki by Kenneth Thomasma, The Emigrants by Vilhelm Moberg, and Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery.)
There are a couple (ok, more than a couple) authors whose books I would add: Tamora Pierce, Diane Duane, Paulo Coelho, Carolyn Keene, Gary Paulson, Will Hobbs, Philip Pullman, Ann Brashares, Jane Austen, Deborah Ellis…really, there’s a reason I can’t carry all my books with me!
I cherish all of these stories for different reasons, but there are two series in particular that have been incredibly formative for me. I’ve already written about Harry Potter (and don’t worry, I’ll write about him more at some point) so today I’d like to tell you a little bit about my second-most-reread-series-of-all-time: Anne of Green Gables.
This is a series that has grown up with me. There are eight books in total, following Anne through her life and her children’s lives. When I was little I loved the first book, where Anne grows from age eleven to age fifteen. As I’ve matured, I’ve come to appreciate the later books in ways I didn’t before. My favorite while I was in college was Anne of the Island, because Anne was in college. Actually, I think that’s still my favorite, but someday I can imagine that I will have a different perspective on the books where Anne gets married and has children.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, Anne Shirley in an orphan girl who is accidently sent to Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, siblings in their mid-fifties who live at Green Gables. They originally wanted a boy to help with the farm, but through a miscommunication got Anne instead. Anne is red-haired, much to her dismay, talkative, and very imaginative. She gets into all sorts of scrapes but always with the best of intentions. I love her as a child and as an adult; I think it’s one of the best literary examples of character growth. There is a lot about Anne that I aspire to, especially as she matures.
At the moment, I’m especially appreciative of the fact that Anne never loses her imagination, not even as a mother of six. As I mentioned above, I certainly don’t ever want to lose mine. That’s part of why I continue to write, even when I’m writing something silly like fanfiction. Maybe especially silly things like fanfiction. As Anne would say, there’s just so much scope for imagination!
I got into the habit of rereading at least the first book every April my junior year of college when I was living in Sweden. Most years I also reread a couple more, though I haven’t yet made it through all eight since the first time I read them all. I don’t always read them in order, and sometimes I read more than one at a time. This year the urge to go back to Anne’s story crept up on me a bit earlier than normal, so I’ve already started into it. Perhaps this will be the year I actually get through them all again!
I could go on for a long time about why I love Anne – she inspires my nerd and also my old-lady-hobbitness. I love how much she loves flowers and trees and rambling walks outdoors. But, I’ll stop here for today and instead give you your homework!
Why do you read? Do you reread? Why or why not?