In honour of the new school year about to begin, let’s talk about books. How did your kids do this summer on the recommended 20 minutes of reading per day? I don’t know about other families but my boys summer reading can be totaled up in two occasions of the recommended 20 minutes, having them rhyme off the closed captioning from the current Switched at Birth episode we are on and my quizzing them on drive thru menus. I’m slightly disappointed in myself because I love books.
Can you remember who opened the door to the reading world for you? For me, it was Mr Mugs.
I remember being curled up in a comfy chair at home trying to stumble through a Mr. Mugs tale. Once I seemed to get the hang of it, I devoured the entire series of books pretty quickly. Now that I am almost 40 (I know, it doesn’t seem possible that I could be that old) I can see the trail of books that have accompanied my life. At times they have defined me and at others, guided me. A few probably saved me. And many have made me who I am today. Here is the library of my life
My mom kept a series of books at a level that was easy to reach when I was small. She would consult a certain title or read one aloud, usually when one of us kids were in trouble. The Let’s Talk About series by Joy Berry included titles such as Let’s Talk about Lying and Let’s Talk About Teasing. The first half of the book always presented a misbehaving child – AKA how I shouldn’t act. These were my favourite parts and many times I found it pretty hilarious. Of course, the second half of the book explained why children shouldn’t act in such a way and a demonstrated the reformed child winning the praises of his/her family. I was usually bored by that half of the book. For some reason though, as part of paying penance for a misdeed, I always consulted these books, as if they could teach me to behave properly the next time around. If only it was that easy!!
In first or second grade I went through testing for the gifted program. For one of the tasks, I was provided a picture book, a tape recorder and a blank cassette (now I seem old). I was supposed to create a story to accompany the illustrations in the book. All I remember is a dinosaur on a teeter-totter – and it stumped me. I basically dictated the exact details of each picture on the page and that was all I could manage. Obviously I wasn’t accepted to the program. How the heck I ended up writing after all these years is beyond me.
The Wonderful Way That Babies Are Made. This book changed my life. I now knew things I hadn’t known before and wasn’t sure I had wanted to know in the first place. My mother read it to me. Bless her.
In fifth grade a small group of students was given the opportunity to learn about books and story writing. (Now that I look back, we were probably all gifted program failures). We were tasked with reading a few books to prompt our creativity and then coming up with our own story. Similar to the dinosaur book, I wasn’t all that creative….. It was basically a forgery. “Charlie (I might have borrowed the name from Roald Dahl) and The Magic Shoes”. It involved magic beans as well. We also illustrated the book (art is apparently not my forte either). The awesome part was that we learned how to manufacture a book – from the cover to the spine to the plastic sleeve. I remember loving the smell.
Predictably, as a young teeny bopper in the late 80’s, Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield were my constant companions through middle school.
I was convinced I was an Elizabeth but longed to be a Jessica. When Elizabeth broke up with her long-term boyfriend, Todd, I was devastated. Any bully in my real life days earned the nickname Lila Fowler.
In writing this piece, I racked my brain for a book that represented high school or impacted me through those formative years – I can think of ummmm…. none. Through 5 years of Shakespeare and numerous book reports, not a single one stands out as meaningful. Isn’t that terrible? I discovered CNN in those years and developed a tiny obsession that still lingers to this day.
When I became pregnant at 18 years old I, of course, turned to my trusted sidekick – books. I had no other resources; most of my friends were preparing for university and the internet was in it’s infancy. Thank the Lord for What to Expect When Expecting. I marked the days on my calendar to remind me when to read up on the next month and what was happening with my body and my baby in those very weeks. Sometimes I read ahead but I remember feeling cheated once the actual day came around to read the next month. I think I read the chapters on labour at least forty-five times. I tried to burn the words and photos into my memory for quick reference when the time came. Of course, four kids later I know that all that goes out the window when the real thing happens but back then knowledge and planning were my comfort and security. Again, four kids later – what the heck is planning?
As a new mom, What to Expect the First Year was my bible. If the book said to feed my baby every three hours, I fed my baby every three hours to. the. minute. My mom would be holding a crying, hungry baby girl and I would watch the clock on the microwave. “She can’t be fed yet, it’s only 6:59 pm! It has to be three hours between feeding!”. The book told me to start feeding solid at 4 months so 4 months to the day of her birth, I started feeding rice cereal to my daughter. I introduced solid foods in the exact order suggested. I did whatever the book told me to do and lo and behold, my daughter and I survived and thrived (and my parents were probably going crazy).
Shortly before my daughter turned two we added a husband to our family. Even though I already had a baby, I checked The Act of Marriage by Tim and Beverly LaHaye out from the church library. It was weird and a little archaic. I can’t bring myself to include a link to it. You’re welcome. I returned it to the library pretty quickly.
After baby number two, serious mental health issues rose to the surface for me. In 2000, post-partum depression was not a household topic. I was suffering from it and had no idea. As I fell further in to it, I developed an eating disorder. Anyone who has ever battled through this will tell you that it consumes you. It consumes your mind. All I thought about was food, avoiding food, calories, expelling calories, exercise and being as thin as paper. And all I read about revolved around the same topics. Marya Hornbacher’s Wasted was my guide on how to be a “better” anorexic. I read Slim-to-None: A Journey Through the Wasteland of Anorexia Treatment” by Jennifer Henricks with the goal of knowing how to avoid becoming too sick and therefore obvious to other people in order to evade being forced into treatment or ending up with serious health consequences. I was trying to discover how to win the prize but skirt the consequences. I failed on both counts.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released two weeks before I gave birth to my third child. It accompanied me to the hospital and throughout labour. Over the next two days in the hospital I may have bonded more with Harry and Hermione than my son. Once my son is old enough to read the series (if he isn’t illiterate because of lazy summers), he’ll forgive me.
As I emerged from the cloud of mental health issues I began longing for purpose and meaning to my life. I started attending church again and reading my Bible. To this day I have no clue why I picked up An Imperfect Offering by Dr. James Orbinski. The world of healthcare and medicine had never been of interest to me and I purchased the hardcover copy at Chapters with no idea of what I was getting into. Orbinski was at one time the President of Doctors Without Borders and his stories opened up the world of humanitarian aid in developing countries and areas affected by war for me. In other words, he brought global reality crashing into my little white Canadian girl world. There is a scene where Dr. Orbinski befriends a child along a fence in a war torn country and shortly afterwards, with Orbinski still in earshot, the child is killed by gunfire. The story was told so matter-of-factly. The callousness stuck with me. How much had this man seen to bring him to a place where he accepted the incident as part of inevitable, everyday life?
A light hearted follow up (insert sarcasm) to Orbinski’s book was Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. His account of war and death in Sierra Leonne, childhood innocence ripped from little hands and being forced to murder and pillage brought me to my knees and challenged my values and beliefs like never before. As I continued with the story, the shock of the depth of violence and inhumanity transformed to anger and then conviction. I asked Jesus why he would let such atrocities occur in the world and why he wasn’t doing anything to stop it. He reminded me that he works through people and that it’s our job to be doing something about it. That I am part of a global family and I knew then that I could no longer do nothing about it.
This time I knew what I was getting into when I chose Crazy Love by Francis Chan. He challenged me to live out what I say I believe. That life is about people not stuff and loving and serving God and others was the sum of my calling and any else that claims to follow Jesus.
Somewhere in the middle of my entire existence being questioned, three friends and I started a book club. I first picked up a copy of Twilight at my grandmother’s house. Yes, my 85 year-old grandmother. I read the back cover and thought it sounded strange. My grandmother was of the same opinion and never finished the book. Somehow it ended up in my hands a few weeks later and I read the entire book in one very late night. Two weeks after that I was pleading with members of my book club to read it. “My choice for next month’s book is Twilight. It’s a love story between a vampire and a human. Stop looking at me like that – talk to me after Bella and Edward have mushroom ravioli.” They thanked me later.
Once I became a mother to baby number four, for obvious reasons, I slacked off and mostly read Jodi Picoult novels. Random lessons from books I can recall:
The Time Traveler’s Wife – love endures and time travel books can be appealing. I had to actually write out a timeline to understand how it all worked, but in the end, it stuck.
Life of Pi – stunning ending.
The Kite Runner – beautiful, entwined story-telling.
The Pearl That Broke Its Shell – living life as a girl in some countries is a completely different experience than life in North America.
I could go on. I am so thankful for books and the people that write them. Books can serve so many different purposes in life. This is just my library. What’s in yours?