Thursday, December 12, 2013

Discovering the Joy of Reading, circa 1944

by Jackie King

People talk about the books that changed their lives, and many books have influenced me. But what changed my life, and at a very early age, was discovering books in general.

I remember the first time that I fell into the pages of a book all by myself. I can still recall the awe of it all. Between my hands I held the promise of a lifetime filled with adventure and pleasure and comfort. I was overcome by the wonder of it all, and, much like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, my world turned Technicolor.

My mother had read books to me before, and I had loved that rhelm. But hearing those stories was controlled by Mama having time available, and she was a busy woman. The ability to read my very own hardcover book was a thrill that I’ll never forget.

I was seven years old and riding home on a school bus filled with high school kids who were Mother’s English students. This automatically made me a stationary target. All of the contempt they felt for the task of being forced to write complete sentences without using double negatives found its way to me. The short ride to our small house in the country was an ordeal. But suddenly I had found a hiding place.

God smiled on me in the third grade when Miss Hinkle, an aging old maid whose life was her school children, put a book into my hands and taught me to read it.

My earlier history of books for children consisted of uninteresting facts about Dick, Jane and Spot. While I admired these siblings and their pet, I didn’t have one thing in common with them.

They never got into trouble. I esteemed these paragons of virtue, but found them dull and in no way could I identify with them. In the book I read that day on the bus, the girl telling the story got into all kinds of trouble, and suddenly, magically, I was that girl!

The terrors of the bus didn’t disappear, but I had found a hiding place. Each time after that when I opened the pages of a book I found a life filled with excitement. That was the year I read my first mystery, one about the Bobbsey Twins. In another year or two came Nancy Drew. And when I was eighteen I discovered Agatha Christie and I was a goner, although a live one.

If I’m able to give my readers even an ounce of the pleasure that I have received from other authors, then I will have made Miss Hinkle proud.


Jean Henry Mead said...

Your childhood was similar to mine, Jackie. I first became enthralled with reading when I received a copy of Louisa Alcott's Little Women when I was seven. I also suffered from bullies and hid out with bbooks I borrowed from the library, an armload every Saturday.

Bill Kirton said...

Seems that early books have an impact way beyond what we realise even now. I remember my first escape - don't remember the title but it was a book about a dragon. It was an experience of total absorption I'd never got from anything else before. And the current Facebook thing of listing the top 10 of books which have left a lasting impression simply shows that 10 isn't nearly enough. And the ones that people are listing are mostly things they read as grown-ups whereas I'd bet that books like my dragon one were/are just as important.

June Shaw said...

Jackie, what a beautful story! I love knowing how you discovered reading. Wish I could remember my first.

June Shaw said...

Jackie, what a beautful story! I love knowing how you discovered reading. Wish I could remember my first.

Jackie King said...

Jean, I've often thought you and I are kindred spirits. Glad to know we both used books as BFFs.

Jackie King said...

Thanks for your comment, Bill. You have such a way with words! Have you ever thought about writing? (smile)

It's interesting that even though you don't remember the title of your first book, you remember the main character.

Jackie King said...

June, So nice to hear from you. And it's wonderful to discuss the love of reading with others who understand.