It’s back to school time and I’m writing about how reading affected our experiences at school. In some ways reading helped me and in others, it hindered. Neil Diamond has a song called “Brooklyn Rows” about growing up in Brooklyn over a butcher shop and in it he describes sneaking a book behind his textbooks in class, followed by a scene at a parent/teacher conference in which the teacher tells his mother he could do so much better if he weren’t daydreaming all the time. That’s me, except that I grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood on the Northwest Side of Chicago. Go Cubs!
My dad read to me every night before bed until I learned to read for myself. My sister gave me my first “real” book when I was eleven or twelve. By the end of seventh grade, I was reading at the tenth grade level and had developed the habit of never leaving the house without a book. There’s a reason they teach “The Three Rs:” Reading, wRiting and aRithmatic in pre-school—you can’t do anything else without them. And reading comes first because you can’t learn the other two until you learn to read. I simply cannot imagine a life without books in it. I remember the thrill of learning to read the word “LOOK” in first grade. I’m amazed I didn’t teach myself to read before then. I memorized the stories in my “Little Golden Books,” but I never put them together with the words because "it wasn’t the proper time to do that."
I probably loved school because I loved reading. Everything else came easy because I read and retained well. Words painted pictures in my mind and they moved if the author used enough active verbs. Oh, as time went on, I encountered academics who could have used writing lessons with editors who didn't know how to “show, don’t tell.”
Academic writing doesn’t have to be dry as the Sahara. I took a class at Columbia College called Prose Forms and my article, Bulimia, which appeared in our award-winning student anthology Hair Trigger 9 & 10, comes from that. It opens with an example of a woman binge-purging. “Jane Doe shut herself in the bathroom stall and opened the box of pie. The warm, brown smell of chocolate hit her nose as she plucked a dark shaved piece off the top. Jane used it as a scoop to dig through the cool, puffy whipped cream to the fragrant pudding beneath, until it began to melt between her fingers. She popped it in her mouth and let it dissolve, then licked her fingers and selected her next scoop from the frothy, white sea.”
When I reached high school, there was never enough time to get to my locker and switch books between classes. I wish I’d had a Kindle and my text-books had been e-books. I carried half of my books from home-room to lunchtime and the other half from lunchtime to the end of school each day. Then I carried all of my books home each night and back in the morning. And of course in college, my classes were not all in the same building, nor did I have a locker in which to keep them.
Right now, my Kindle has twenty-seven Muse books, ten books people have sent me to review, eight classics, two of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, twenty audio book files, five books written by friends who are not Muse authors, and my self-published book, Rock Bound, which is Book One in my Moon Rock series. Rock Crazy, Book Two, will be out next month through MuseItUp Publishing’s mainstream side. I love my Kindle. If I finish a book while I’m out somewhere, I can start another one.
I could not see myself going back to school and schlepping piles of books. Kids have it so easy these days. Did I mention I had to carry those books back and forth in the snow uphill both ways? Would you believe uphill one way? Okay, it was Chicago and it was flat. But I still walked about nine blocks and when I took swimming second to last period at the other end of the building from Latin my hair froze on the way home. And that’s the truth! ;-P