Reading: High School
Books continued to be a means of escape for me — whether it was from conflict with my parents at home, or the specter of having to interview my peers for the school paper. Some days, it was easier to just bury my nose in a book, even if it meant I had to ditch newspaper class to do it. (The advisor made it clear in no uncertain terms that skipping was not acceptable, and I never did it again...) I delved into many different genres, including historical fiction featuring the Titanic, the Romanovs and Catherine the Great in Imperial Russia, Queen Victoria, Mary Queen of Scots. One of my favorites from this time period was A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which featured another strong female protagonist, a kind young girl named Sara Crewe who had grown up in Colonial India, but whose rich father enrolled her in a wealthy English boarding school as was customary during the 19th century. Unfortunately, her father lost his fortune and died, leaving Sara destitute and enabling the school’s headmistress to force Sara to work as a servant to pay off her tuition. In spite of her dire circumstances, Sara entertains her friends, including a scullery maid and other unpopular girls with her imaginative stories inspired by the Indian culture as a means of coping. I loved how strong Sara was even though she faced unimaginable tragedy in the loss of her beloved father and the loss of love and comfort from those who should have cared for her. She stayed strong to the end, when her fortunes turned around in the best way possible.
As I read about these strong characters who persevered in the face of tragedy or social conflict, I started developing more of my own strong opinions and slowly began the process of breaking out of my shell. One of my first efforts to assert my own opinion within the context of a friendship occurred in the middle of Latin class during my sophomore or junior year of high school. A young man who I thought was a friend had been spending a few weeks trying, for some unknown reason, to damage my relationship with a mutual friend, a young woman I had known since second grade. Finally, I had had a enough of his machinations and told him, in no uncertain terms, that I was done with him. Naturally, he decided to use a certain digit to express his opinion of my sudden expression of a strong opinion opposing him. So I used the spine of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night to leave an impression between his eyes. We never spoke again.
By this time, I had started carrying around five or six library books with me to church or other events so I always had something to read. One day when I was a junior in high school, a friend of mine who was a year younger and attended the rival high school across town caught up with me after a church event. As I walked down the hall, carrying my stack of books, she stopped me and asked, “Why do you carry all those books around all the time?”
At first, I thought she was being snotty, but a moment later, I realized that she was sincere. It wasn’t like her to be critical. So I explained that I love to read, to bury myself in book. I feel like I’m living the life of the main characters, so much so that sometimes a book gets too emotionally intense, so I’ll set it aside and pick up another. Other times, a section of a book gets boring, so I’ll set it aside and return to the first book, or switch to another one. Of course, if I finish a book, I always have another to pick up. As someone who was an only child for the first five years of my life, I quickly learned how to make sure I was never bored. She asked me what I was reading, so I showed her the back covers and first few pages of some of the different science fiction books I was reading at that moment. She seemed fascinated and asked me where I got all of the books. I told her the library. She asked me how much that cost.
After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I explained that the library is free. She’d just need to take her mom to sign her up for a card and then make sure she returned the books before the due date. I also mentioned that her school most likely had a library, as well. Over time, I noticed that she started carrying around her own stack of books – only she was reading fantasy novels. Fantasy is probably one of my least favorite genres (though I did enjoy Robert Asprin’s MythAdventures series). She loved telling me all about the books she was reading, and realizing I might have been the catalyst of this obsession, I made a point to try and appear interested, to encourage her to read in spite of the fact that I couldn’t really share her love of fantasy. I’m not sure how successful I was at this, but to her credit, she didn’t let that stop her.
Towards the end of the school year, she pulled me aside after church one day and told me that she had been in what were then called Learning Disabled (LD) reading classes for the majority of her schooling. But since she had started reading on her own time and fallen in love with those fantasy novels, she had worked her way out of those classes and would be put in a regular reading/English class the next semester.
Fast forward about 20 years and I rediscovered her on Facebook. After I friended her, I discovered this statement in her About section: “I love to read for books are an excellent form of information and knowledge. I don't have a few books – I have a library as my husband calls it. I even have e-books that are saved on a flash drive. My books range from science fiction to bios.” I’d like to think that I helped inspire a young struggling reader to enjoy reading – and later build her own library of books that she loves.