Childhood Reading

I have lots of happy childhood memories:  vacations with my family, spending time with my grandmothers, hanging out with my cousins, playing kickball in the backyard, falling into a ditch full of snow after one of northern Alabama’s few blizzards.  Okay, that last one isn’t a happy memory at all, and is probably the root cause of my lifelong aversion to snow, but the rest remind me of the fun I had as a kid.

But when I think about my childhood, the memory that stands out the most is sitting outside in the shade on a summer day, with my sweet tea and my lemon and my salt shaker and my book.  I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t read.  According to my parents I was quite precocious (thanks Mom and Dad!) and read early, but I have no recollection of learning how to read.  As far as I’m concerned, being able to read is just some great gift given to me, one I have made good use of over the years.

One of the things I do remember is going to the library.  I went to the library at school, the library at church, and the public library, checking out as many books as I could as often as I could.  During the summer, when the library had reading challenges for kids (“read 10 books this summer!) and you had to keep track of the books you read, I’d always be done with the challenge in about a week.  I don’t even remember now if I got any kind of prize or recognition for this.  I’m pretty sure I never bothered to write down the titles of all the books I read, just some of them.

I also remember going to the store every week with my allowance in hand, and having to make the big decision of what to buy.  I loved music even as a child, too, so I was always torn between spending my dollar on books or 45s (note for younger readers–45s were vinyl editions of music, one song on each side).  If I’m remembering correctly, I got $1/week allowance, which meant I could buy 3 records or 2 books.  In my mind, I spent hours standing in front of the book and music sections, agonizing over my decision while my mom took my younger siblings with her to buy groceries.  Probably not an accurate memory, since I’m sure I didn’t get to stand there for hours, but that’s how it felt.

The joy of reading the books outweighed any decision-making agony.  Books took me places I’d never been, introduced me to characters who lived very different lives from me, and gave me the chance to solve mysteries, defeat evildoers, and triumph over all kinds of adversity.  I read anything and everything, and never worried or cared about how “good” a book was.  If it caught my interest and made me forget where I was, made me laugh or cry or gasp, scared me or thrilled me or made me frantically read faster and faster to see what happened next–if it did any of these things, it was a good book.

While I still love to read today, after years of studying and teaching literature and writing I tend to read with a more critical eye.   Not in a negative way of looking for flaws, just  thinking about how I would teach the book, or wondering why the author made certain choices.   Sometimes my graduate school training kicks in, and I start making distinctions between “good reads” and “good literature.”

Being able to distinguish good literature from bad books is a valuable skill, and certainly there are many bad books out there, books I start reading and put down without finishing because they just aren’t any good.  But sometimes I want to shut down that part of my brain, and read the way I did all those long ago summer days, sitting outside in the shade.

What are your memories of childhood reading?  Do you remember learning to read?  Where and when did you most enjoy reading?

And start thinking about the books you loved as a child.  In the next blog entry, I’ll offer up my own list and would love to see yours.


About notthatCindyCrawford

I like books, music, movies, television, sports, food, travel, learning, laughing and sitting around thinking. This blog is a place for me to have fun writing about the things I love. Let me know how I'm doing.
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12 Responses to Childhood Reading

  1. I am looking forward to your list. I am currently rereading From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler. I also remember learning to read. My father taught me around the age of three or four with flash cards. I found it frustrating at first because I struggled to learn, but then once I did no one could stop me.

  2. Jane Everson says:

    I too do not remember a time when I did not have my nose in a book! It is interesting to try and remember my favorites books, I don’t remember favorite children’s books that I like as a young child, just books from my pre-ten years and beyond. I remember Winnie the Pooh and Alice in Wonderland, but I suspect that is because I have re-read them both several times as an adult. My favorites children’s book now is Alexander and the Very Bad Day, Judith Voirst, I think? I also remember loving Robert Louis Stevenson’s poetry and Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls. And I must confess an addition for Nancy Drew and The Bobsey Twins that has matured into a lifelong love of mysteries.

    • All of those Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys/Bobbsey Twin books are the ones I was usually buying. Did you ever read Trixie Belden? My very favorite mystery series as a kid. And like you I still love mystery series today.

      I also have a hard time remembering books from a very young age. For the most part, I have no idea when I first read a book, especially since I’ve reread most of them over and over throughout my life. I’ll have to really think about the books I liked best as a kid. I suspect these will mostly be the ones I read when I was 10ish.

  3. Jeff says:

    LIke you, I have no memory of learning to read. I just know that I have always loved books. For me, that love can be boiled down to a couple of fine points. Story lines and plots matter, but what matters more to me is (1) how a book makes me feel and (2) how the author uses language. I appreciate a clever turn of phrase, or sometimes just an author’s ability to write really long but still coherent sentences, with oodles of commas (I’m talking to you Russell Banks).

    One memory of childhood reading that your blog post brought to the surface for me was the bookmobile. I LOVED when the bookmobile would visit our school. I mean, c’mon, a traveling bookstore that comes to you? It doesn’t get much better than that – unless they made bookmobiles for adults that included a nice bar area, where I could sit and sip martinis with friends while discussing books.

    • Oh my God–a bookmobile/barmobile for adults. You may be on to something here! You can drink, read, discuss books . . .sounds like a really cool idea. Maybe this should be your/our next job?

      • jane says:

        I would like in on that bar/bookmobile idea! and with at least 3 of us we could rotate who does the driving (and therefore no drinking that day.) and I’m picturing nice big windows all around – we could cruise out Huron River Drive as a start. sigh.

  4. Huron River Drive is a good place to start, but I was thinking we could combine this with a goal from one of my previous blogs and drive our BarBookMobile down Highway 101, stopping along the way to let our fellow booklovers join us. For a slight fee, of course.

    • jane says:

      yup – California highway sounds wonderful! and yesterday, David Zubl had a great addition — Bette David is just finishing up her memoir so I volunteered the BarBookMobile for her book tour! There was some discussion about smoking in the BBM, and we agreed that a lounge up on the roof would work.
      Jeff – of course you’ll bartend for this tour, but apparently Bette would find a Lemon Drop to be a ‘girly drink’.

  5. david says:

    From Ms. Bette David:

    Darlings, as interesting as I find the idea of a BookBarMobile, I must confess that I would hardly be able to contribute to the conversation, as the only book I remember from my childhood is Mr. Boston’s Bar Guide. However, my publicist (Mr. Zubl) distinctly recalls the revelation upon visiting the Southwest Branch of the Greensboro Public Library (in the Sedgefield Shopping Center on High Point Road) that reading is not limited to the confine’s of one’s budget. As a former and still-revered screen star, that was never a concern of mine; but I am struck by how books and reading are bound up with his most cherished memories. (He swears he can still smell that library when he closes his eyes.) I am sure I could persuade him to jot down a few notes that would enable me to swap literary bon mots with the clientele of the BBM as we toss back a few vodka gimlets.

    Speaking of childhood reading habits, my publicist wonders if anyone knows whether The Three Investigators series is still in print? At one time he had over 30 of them, but sadly he no longer remembers what happened to them. But he still remembers their names…Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw, and Bob (Records) Andrews.

    I must go, pets, the Senator is at the door. Please do feel free to let me know if you need a donation to get the BBM collection started.


    • Bette, how wonderful to hear from you! I’m sure many of your fans are quite ecstatic to learn that you are still knocking back vodka gimlets and entertaining senators. Once we get the BBM on the move, we’ll get in touch.

      Oh, and please tell Mr. Zubl that The Three Investigators appear to be missing from the lists of still-published books, and pass along my sympathies to him.

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