“Your writing is a disgrace to the English language.” I actually had a teacher in high school tell me that. It’s no wonder that I chose to study math in college, the furthest thing (in my mind) from reading and writing. I was not creative, not poetic, and NOT a writer. I tried to embrace that. I even went back and got a Master’s Degree in Statistics just for fun.
As a child, I loved to read and write. My dad was an elementary principal who engineered his own reading program, which he helped to implement in school districts around the country. Like him, I always had a book in my hand. I grew up reading adventures from Roald Dahl and Beverly Clary. I devoured Harry Potter when it came out in middle school and couldn’t get enough of Edward and Bella in Twilight as a teenager. I loved to write short stories and was a veracious journaler. In third grade, I proudly declared I wanted to be an author when I grew up.
But somewhere along the way, that fire faded.
Maybe it was that the books got a little less exciting. The classics are classics, right? And everyone should automatically love them, right? But to some (cough, me, cough), the classics are just downright boring.
Maybe it was that reading and writing felt like work. I was suddenly made to read books I didn’t like and then write long essays about them. Even to the most enthusiastic reader, that sounds a little like drudgery.
Or maybe it was that teacher. The one who put the final squash on my love of reading and writing. Perhaps I wasn’t the best at writing theme papers on those real page-turners he chose. But that didn’t mean that I couldn’t write at all, did it? I was led to believe that yes, that is precisely what that meant. And I did believe that for nearly two decades.
Fast forward to my early thirties. Holding fast to the idea that I. Was. Not. A. Reader. Or. A. Writer. I had worked in insurance and banking as a statistician for several years. Spreadsheets and SAS code were my jam, and I liked it that way. My most recent career, however, was as a mom to four curious, adorable little humans. My oldest, my son Logan, was just beginning to read. I loved watching him devilishly fly through literary works of art such as Captain Underpants and Goosebumps. He would often stay up late into the night to finish an extra good chapter or work on illustrating his own comic book. His enthusiasm was contagious. I vowed not to let him succumb to the same fate that I had. I had to keep his love of reading and writing alive.
I knew for my children to be readers, they needed to see me reading. After all, it was by watching my dad teach and love the English language that the spark had once been aglow in me. But first, I needed to lay some ground rules. Number one: I wasn’t going to read anything I didn’t want to read. Screw the classics. I would go for genres and books geared toward lovesick teenagers. Seeing as that was the stage of life I was in the last time I actually enjoyed reading, it seemed like a good place to start. Number two: if I wasn’t liking a book, I wouldn’t force myself to finish. I didn’t owe anyone anything. Reading was going to be fun again, and if it wasn’t, I would quit and start something else. And finally, I was going to stay the heck away from “book people.” Anyone who would trample on what little confidence or flame I had left. People like my high school English teacher.
So, off I went to my local bookstore, in search of something entertaining to prove to my son (and myself) that I was a lifelong reader, and he could be one too! Perusing the young adult section, my eyes glazed over with all the options. It felt crucial that I pick a book I would like, but where to start? I finally decided on The Selection by Kiera Cass because it was sparkly and had a pretty girl in a big, flouncy dress on the cover. If this book wasn’t for me, none of them would be. Little did I know, that book would change my life.
Turns out, The Selection was indeed the perfect book. I inhaled it, along with the other two books in the series, in less than 48 hours. Fast-paced, romantic, with just enough action and intrigue. Where had this book been all my life? I thought books like this only lived on the New York Times Best Seller list, awaiting their turn to be made into blockbuster movies. Ya know, once in a blue moon type of books. But here it was: a book some ditzy girl stumbled into a bookstore one day and chose it for its pretty cover. It was unknown, and it was fabulous. Was it possible there were more like it?
The next book I tried was Cinder by Marissa Meyer. Again, I gorged myself on the series, being held hostage by the stories late into the night. And it just kept happening. Each series I tried, I loved. Reading books like Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi, Delerium by Lauren Oliver, and Rush by Eve Silver felt like uncovering hidden gems. Reading was fun again, and I was having a blast.
I felt like I had been dying of thirst and had finally been given water to drink. Within a year, I had read 72 books. Exactly 72 more than I had read the previous ten years combined. My soul was awakened and transformed. I felt more like myself than I had in years. But there was still one thing lacking. A thing my husband uncovered when asking me one simple question.
“What is your dream?”
The answer to that question… next time.