There are very few things that make me so happy as books. I love them so much that I started writing them. I was raised in a family of readers. I was raised around books. I was born into it.
You may have heard me talk about my brother and my sisters. It may be a shock to know that I am an only child. I wasn’t just an only child; I was a lonely child. There weren’t a whole lot of options for entertainment where I grew up. You could go to the park. You go to school yard. You could ride your bike. But there weren’t a lot of kids my age. There weren’t many girls my age that my mom would want me associating with. That’s OK. They didn’t want to hang out with me anyway. Let’s face it, I was a weird kid. That hasn’t really changed over the years. I’ve just come to terms with it.
So, I read a lot. I was a kid with the flashlight under the covers reading after bedtime. My parents had a love for books as well. That made it a little bit easier for me because there was always access to books. Not always the types of books your mom would want you reading at ten years old. But it was reading and they were books, none the less. I think I was sixteen when she caught me reading “The Exorcist.” It was her copy. Mom wasn’t real happy about me reading that book and made me put it back up on the shelf. It didn’t take long before she found out I was reading it again. So she hid it. My mom hid books like she hid my Christmas presents. I always found them without actually looking. Once I found them, I would continue to read them. Much like many things, if you’re told not to do it, you just want to do that thing more. Finally, Mom got tired of me reading the banned books of the house. She donated them. Mom didn’t have a problem with me reading; she just wanted it to be age appropriate. And I get that.
I have always been confused that it was OK for kids in high school to read about teenagers disobeying their parents and committing suicide after a three day romantic fling? That’s OK but books about demonic possession are out of the question. Yeah, that makes sense.
Can we talk about William Shakespeare in high school? Why do they always select the tragedies? High school is terrible. High school is full of trauma and drama. Why make it worse by making us suffer through stories of betrayal, heart break, and death? Books are suppoosed to be an escape. Books are a chance to get away from the real world. There are so many books out that hsve nothing to do with the world turning against you and destroying you. There are books that encourage and show triumph in the face of adversity. And yes, there are struggles in those books. Nobody ever grows from not struggling. The struggle helps you find out what you’re made of. You’ll never become the king, the chosen one, the savior unless you’re challenged. Yeah, there’s going to be some some drama in it. That’s not the whole story. It’s about rising above that and becoming better. It’s not about succumbing to it and just giving up.
I would have loved to have read A Midsummer Night’s Dream in high school. Instead we had to read “Julius Caesar,” “MacBeth,” “Hamlet,” and, what I feel, is the worst example of literature for teens, “Romeo and Juliet.”
Yes, I think it’s terrible. I thought it was terrible when I was a kid. People like to get bent out of shape when you remind them that they had only known each other for three days. This is not a story about seventeen and eighteen year olds. They’re not even sixteen and seventeen. This is about a thirteen year old girl and a fourteen year old boy. And because those two decided to not listen and do what they wanted to they got people killed, including themselves. This is not a smart choice to put into the heads of teenagers.
There were other aspects of high school English that I questioned. I guess I’ve always been the kind of person to wonder what made a book a classic. Why is something a classic? I’m not a rebel. I’m not a rabble-rouser but sometimes I question the fact that people will like something just because everyone else does. And there’s even more of that kind of stigma when you’re a writer. People will look at you and say, “Oh, you’re a writer? You must like William Shakespeare. You must read Charles Dickens. You must try to write like Ernest Hemingway.” I’ve tried. So many times. Can like with asparagus. Everyone likes asparagus. At least that’s what they tell you. So, I keep trying it. I keep hating it. Although, the writing like Hemingway can be fun. Until it’s time to edit and you can’t figure out what you’ve written.
Does that make me any less of a writer a reader because I don’t like reading Thoreau? Is my value as an author diminished rather read Stephen King and Dean Koontz? Is my worth as a reader diminished because I would rather curl up with Erma Bombeck and Jenny Lawson? Am I less worth reading because I don’t like the story of Moby Dick? I don’t think so.
The whole point of reading is enjoyment. So, if you’re not enjoying what you’re reading then what’s the point? That extends into nonfiction as well; this isn’t just a fiction based thing. I see this in my own kids. They have to learn in a way that speaks to them. Writing is the same way. It has to speak to you. It has to mean something. If it doesn’t mean anything to you, then it’s not going to stick with you. You’re not going to want to finish it. Eventually, it’s going to be a dusty, old book on a shelf.
A big part of writing is finding your voice. I think the best advice ever heard about finding your voice came from Stephen King in his book “On Writing.” He talked about how what he reads affects what and how he writes. He said when he read an author that was really jumpy and choppy, his next book was written bare bone and gritty. If there were flourishing embellishments in the next book he read, the book he wrote after was written in that same fashion.
Inevitably, at least once a day, someone in a Facebook writers’ group will ask, “Do you have to be a reader to be a writer?” That answer is easy. Yes. A resounding yes. Reading helps you find out two things: what you like and what you don’t. Say you’re reading a book, and at some point you find yourself sitting and saying, “This is crap. I can do so much better than this.” You have just learned something about yourself and your writing style. I’ve said this about anything that I write. If you ever read anything of mine and think, “I can do so much better than this,” please do. When you do write, edit, and publish your book that is better than mine, please let me know about it so I can buy a copy of your book.
I am always encouraging people to write a book. I told them they don’t even have to go through the publishing side of things. But, I believe everyone should at write a book start to end, front to back. I feel like that would help them have an appreciation of what it’s like. I truly believe everyone has a story in them, they just need to get it out. I found out, out of all the people who have ever lived on this planet, only two percent have ever written a book. Only two percent of all the people who have ever lived on this planet have written a book. Think about that when you walk into a bookstore, or go on to Amazon and you see the plethora of pages and prose in front of you. Keep the number of two percent in your mind.
There are so many people out there that say they want to be a writer. What’s stopping them? The excuse train: If I only had the time. I just don’t have the time. I don’t know how you find the time.
I make the time. I make the time to read. I make the time to write. I make the time to edit. Why? Because it’s important to me. I don’t want to work at a call center all my life. I didn’t want to work in childcare all my life. I don’t want to work for someone all my life. So, I read books to learn my style and learn my voice. I read for enjoyment. I read to get away. I read to travel to places and meet new people. Books are way more interesting than most of the people that I deal with on a daily basis. I read for the experience of reading. There have been times when I’ve read something so beautifully written, that I closed the book and cried because there was no more perfect way to express what was already written. I have been so angry at the death of a character, I have pitched the book at a wall and refused to pick it up from the floor for days.
I love books so much for what they do for us. I try to set aside about an hour a day to read for enjoyment. My other reading that I do is more like research. I do read news articles at workt. There are stories that I like reading. My Kindle is filled with books that I had to have. They are now on my to be read list. I am chipping away at that list. My to be read list could wrap around the Earth if it were written in ten point font.
It’s good to have that time to yourself. It’s good to have those moments when you’re not expected to be Mom. You’re not cleaning the house or doing laundry or dishes. You’re not answering the phone or fighting obscure relatives over politics on Facebook. You’re not even really there. You’re in a book. You’re watching the events happen. You’re helping the protagonist make the important choices that move them through their journey.
It is amazing what the right book can do. Let’s look at “Harry Potter.” This one series of books is so important for its impact on society. It started fights, riots, and book burnings. For those of us that stood strong for the love of those books, for those of us who spoke up,for those of us who held on to those books like shields against the slings and arrows, we can now go to Hogwarts. We can ride the Hogwarts Express and have a butterbeer. For as amazing as that is to actually be able to physically experience it – not just in my head but to actually physically touch and step into these things that I read about, dreamed about – the one thing that will always stay with me was when I was working at the community center. During the summer, I was seeing these kids at nine, ten, and eleven year old kids carrying these books that weighed more than some of them did. They were carrying them around and actively reading. Not just reading the words on the page but being engrossed by the story. They were part of the story. They were never so quiet on bus rides, and field trips to the pool that summer. Every kid had a copy of “Harry Potter.” I was sitting there, watching these kids reading. It was an amazing moment. I know JK Rowling will never see this but I’ll say it anyway. That was one of the moments that really solidified in me my want for being a writer. I wanted my book to influence that many people to read a book from start of the series all the way to the end. I wanted my stories to be so visceral that people couldn’t put them down. And admittedly, it wouldn’t be that bad to sell that many copies of a book. Ever. I’d be OK with that side of things, too.
So tonight, I will sit and read with my family. I will read with my daughters. I will let them read to me. I will sit on the couch with my son and read a book. I will let him try to read to me. I will add one extra bedtime story for my son tonight. I will share the books that I’ve already written. And I will share books that I’ve already read. I will go on to Amazon and review the books that I have read. Because that’s called the care and feeding for independent authors. Today, I will read to be happy. I will read uplift me, energize me, and encourage me. I will read stories that inform me and stories that entertain me.
Today read a book.