The Power of Reading

This blog was originally posted on the Writers and Authors blog here:
When I was five or six, my mother began to worry that my older brother’s “reading is lame” stance would have a negative affect on my reading enthusiasm. To counter my brother’s influence,  she offered to pay me a dollar for every book I read. A dollar is a lot of money. So when she took me to the library that afternoon, I loaded up on books.
The first series I saw was The Boxcar Children. It was sitting on a display shelf in a cool box that looked like a train. A beautiful display that I promptly destroyed by shoving the first ten books into my library bag and checking out. At home I dived into reading. If I read enough books, I’d be rich! Maybe even more rich than my brother!
I read every book our little library had to offer in the series, and moved on to the next display, The Babysitters Club: Little Sisters Club.  Then I read Sweet Valley Twins, the Full Housebooks, and every other book I could get my hands on that looked relatively new.
I get obsessive when I find a writer I like.  I have to read every book by that author. With some authors, that’s not a huge deal. With Francine Pascal it breaks the bank. By now my mom owed me over a hundred dollars. I never saw a penny of the money after I hit the twenty dollar mark.
When I finished the Sweet Valley Twins series (I’m sure I only read a fraction of them, but they were all I could find. Thank goodness amazon.com had not yet been invented), I moved on to Sweet Valley Twins and Friends. Then I read Sweet Valley High, and then I tried to read Sweet Valley University.
Here I met my match. At seven I couldn’t read Sweet Valley University. The print was too small. There were too many words. I got headaches when I read them. When I complained to my mom she read a few pages, declared the content too mature for me, and started paying more attention to what I checked out at the library.
As I grew, I read more. I developed a problem distinguishing fiction with reality, compounded by a macabre streak of creativity.  I read a book about twins with telepathic powers. I decided my best friend and I were telepathic. My third grade teacher (oddly enough in one of my few experiences in public school) told me the only way you could be telepathic was if you lost your soul to the devil. I told my friend that unfortunately we’d lost our souls to the devil and explained in vivid detail how he would probably drag us to hell that night.
She wasn’t allowed to talk to me again.
In sixth grade I ran into a similar problem with witchcraft. I’d begun reading books by L.J Smith, Christopher Pike and R.L Stine.  After reading so much about witches my friends and I decided we were witches. We’d get together and read the spells out of the books and watch movies like “The Craft.” Then one night we were “casting” a spell in my yard, and suddenly my neighbors starting screaming. Shots were fired, and a car peeled out of the drive way. They were never seen again.
I discovered much later that they’d been going through a messy divorce, and had a particularly bad argument when they discovered their son shooting a bee bee gun into the siding of their house to drown out their arguing. The wife packed up the kids and left, and the husband moved away. I’m glad no one was hurt, because my friends and I were too scared to call 911 to confess that we might have killed our neighbors.
After that, my friends and I got very religious. We joined a local youth group and began to read Christian Fiction. I read books by Bill Myers, Frank Peretti, and Francine Rivers. This Present Darkness is still one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read.
Unfortunately my imagination got the best of me, because now instead of casting spells, my friends and I were studying how to cast out demons. The difference between that and casting pretend spells and thinking we could talk telepathically, is that in the Bible belt there are few adults who will tell you demons are just your imagination.
By the time High School started, my friends and I had moved on to bigger and better things. Somehow we got over the fact that fantasy books were satanic, and starting reading Dragonlance, and Terry Goodkind novels. I devoured books, often finishing a book a day so I could catch up to my friends in whatever series they’d recommended. I also discovered a new way to act out what I read in books. A socially acceptable way. Writing my own.
I started with fan fiction and eventually branched into writing my own stories. For years I babbled to anyone who would listen about the book I was working on. Looking back, it was a terrible work of fiction that too closely resembled everything I’d ever read thrown in a blender.
After I started college, one of my favorite authors (Kelley Armstrong) came out with a young adult counterpart to her book series. Since my obsession with reading every single book a writer has ever written still holds, I preordered it. That is when I rediscovered the young adult genre.
These books were good. I’d loved my L.J Smith books, but there really wasn’t any comparison. The standards of young adult literature had improved sometime while I was working my way through the Dragonlance series. From there I caught up on all the popular YA fiction I’d turned my nose up at during high school. I read Harry Potter, I read Twilight, Uglies, and just about every book I could get my hands on. I enjoy YA books more than any other genre right now. Writers have to concentrate more on the story because they don’t have sex scenes or gory battles to fall back on to fill space. The books are quickly catching up in length, but there isn’t room for the unnecessary story telling just to up the word count that you see in a lot of adult fiction.
I’ve always loved reading, and writing always came in a close second. My dream job in high school was to be a slush reader for a big publishing house.
Then I learned publishing houses don’t pay their slush readers, they use interns. I didn’t particularly want to edit stories or work in any other division of publishing. So now I volunteer my time slush ready for a small publishing house. Consequently most of the books I read now haven’t been released yet.
I still read mostly YA books. I also write YA books. The first in my book series (not the one from high school) is due for release in July. Pending sales, the rest of the trilogy should be out shortly.
Despite my preference for YA, lately my horizons have been expanding. My mom’s group has a book club. We read one book a month, and alternate who chooses the book and the restaurant. Because of their more literary taste, I’ve read things like “The Help,” and “Water for Elephants,” and “The Uses of Enchantment.” We also read mystery novels, and self help books. They make fun of my YA choices, but when my month roles around we discuss not just the one book I chose, but any other book in its series, because most of the time they couldn’t stop after the first book.
I’ve also been reading a lot of children’s books out loud to my two year old lately. My husband and I recently started doing read alouds. We read a Bella book, and then a chapter of a grown up book every night.  If we ever go on long trips I read out loud while he drives.
I just started running, and because music doesn’t create enough of a distraction, I purchased a subscription to Audible, and listen to audio books when I run. It’s great motivation. I can’t hear the rest of the story until I’m running.
Reading has always been my choice of leisure activity. It’s an activity that defines me. My whole life people have told me I’m a reader. Even now, my writers group turns to me for reading recommendations. Reading has also always been a social activity for me. It’s gotten me into more trouble than any other single activity I’ve ever attempted, but it’s also influenced my scholastic journey and defined my career choice. I love to read.
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