A Literacy Narrative
Although I have no memory of the event, my Mother insists that I began to speak when I was three months old. As impossible as this seems, she maintains that it is true. I mention this fact to reveal the beginning of my literary journey and my love affair with words. I love words that are spoken, words that are written, words that are sung, and words that are thought. I love the way words work together to express my thoughts. I love the way some words feel in my mouth when I say them. I love the way words look when they are written on a page. I love the way pages are bound together to make a book. I love the way books feel in my hand before I open the first page. I love the way they smell. I love to open the first page of a book and wonder what each new page will hold and what new words it will reveal.
One of my earliest memories is of my Father’s library. Actually, it was a three car garage that he converted into an office with every wall covered, from floor to ceiling, with huge bookshelves. I remember going into his office and gazing up at the thousands of books, wondering if he had read them all, if anyone could have read them all. I began to wonder if I could read them all. Of course, I never did, but I searched the shelves everyday for a new book to take down and explore. I do not know if my life would have been different if I had not started reading voraciously when I was very young, but I do know that reading books from my Father’s library has influenced every aspect of my life, from my choices as a child to read rather than play, to my choices as an adult to study literature.
My grandmother died very recently, and a cousin, who I had not seen or spoken to in many years, came to her funeral. When he saw me, his first comment was: “Do you still read all the time?” We all laughed, but I thought that his comment was interesting. I read so much when I was young, that, even years later, I am still associated with reading. Reading has become a part of my character. Of course, I had to answer that I did still read all the time, though I was not as obsessed with Star Trek books as I used to be. I find I tended, when I was young, to read by becoming obsessed with a certain genre or author. I experienced my romance period, where all I read were romance novels; my mystery period, where all I read were Mary Higgins Clark and Agatha Christie books; my science fiction period, where all I read were Star Trek books and books by Tolkien and Lewis ( I think that I still have several hundred Star Trek novels in a box somewhere); my sea phase where I was only interested in books about boats; my Dickens phase, my Russian phase; my Austen phase; and other phases that I can’t even remember. Even as an adult, though my reading has become more eclectic and varied, I still find that I get interested in a genre or author and like to focus my attention in one area at a time. Studying literature formally has helped to alleviate some of that tendency as I am forced to broaden my reading palate and compare literature from different authors and genres.
I think that my love of reading combined with a formal study of literature has helped me to become better informed about the world and culture I live in as well as the culture and history that has come before me. I think that reading has helped me to understand and appreciate how literature reflects culture and culture reflects literature. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who said: “we read to know we are not alone.” Reading helps me to understand that I am not alone in the world, I am a part of a community and a history. Reading helps me to know that I am not alone in my thoughts and feelings, that others have thought and felt as I do. Reading helps me to know that voices from the past, telling the stories in the pages of a book, can transcend time and speak to people today and tomorrow. Through reading I can see through other’s points of view and appreciate the differences in all people.
Words and especially words in literature are and have been one of the most important influences in my life. I remember when I was a teenager and other girls were going out and talking about boys and clothes, I found myself walking down the street to the library and coming home with stacks of books. I locked myself in my room for hours every day and read. We did not have cable at our house and my parents were very strict about any movies we watched, so after dinner, when other kids were watching television, I went back to my room and read. Sometimes I think that I would have been better off had I not read so much when I was young because reading instead of socializing when I was a teenager has given me, in some ways, a sense of being detached from other people, but in other ways, I feel very connected to people through literature and language.
In the epilogue to War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy talks about the perception of a bee. He says that to a child who has been stung, a bee something to fear; to a poet, a bee is beautiful; to a bee-keeper, a bee is functional; and to a botanist, a bee is scientific. Tolstoy sees the bee as an example of the multiple purposes of a thing. I see Tolstoy’s bee as an example of the infinite perceptions of a thing. Of all the things I love about words and literature, the thing I love most is the ability of literature to help me see an infinite number of things from an infinite number of perspectives. Through literature, there is always a new way to look at the world.