This week, I panicked when I thought about my topic of discussion this week. I have the distinct impression that I am smashing myself right into the wall of writer’s block. So after some Google-fu, I came across a lovely blog, Estellea’s Revenge, that provided 15 topics to beat the blogging blues. The first one jumped out at me right away:
Your literacy story; how did you become a reader?
This tale is a bittersweet one for me. My “literacy story” is also entwined with my ongoing mental history and learning disability background. Last week, Debby from Snuggly Oranges confessed that she hated reading as a young child. I was blown away when I read this, because I feel that I had a similar attitude towards reading. I hated it, since I associated it with another form of failure in my academic career. Other factors, such as dyslexia and anxiety towards the AR program quickly killed off any desire to read for fun.
During elementary, I did not have the best relationship with reading. I was diagnosed with dyslexia when I was 10, and I started my classes when I entered into the 5th grade. Prior to this, I was frustrated with my own performance, and I knew that something was not clicking for me. This became apparent in 2nd grade. I was failing at reading. I was so far behind my other classmates during reading time in small groups. I was in the lowest level. I know that educators have cute names for each group, like diamonds and stars and such, but I was oddly observant of the things around me, and I knew that I was not cream of the crop. The kids in myreading group were struggling as well, so it was a flashing sign that pointed at my own disability. It was crystal clear to me that I was struggling. I was a horrible speller, and I kept stumbling over grammar, an issue I still face to this day. I wasn’t getting it. My teacher called me “stupid” to my face, and I was disengaged from my work. I hated reading time in 2nd grade. Round robin reading out of our text books, which featured small portions of age-appropriate stories, was pure hell. I despised the fact that I couldn’t read the story at my own pace, and that we would only get a small snippet of the whole plot.
My frustration towards the hobby was planted in this grade.
Looking back, I should have been held back a year in school. I was a late bloomer, and since my birthday starts in June, I straddled that line, and my age did become an issue. My mother confessed to me that my pediatrician strongly suggested to start me in Kinder when I turned 5, even though my mother wanted to wait a year. He recommended this because I was extremely shy and I was not developing socially. My mother took the advice of the doctor, and enrolled me. I was one of the youngest kids in my class, a trend that continued until I graduated.
The rest of my elementary years did not bode well. I was always behind my other peers. The school constantly tested me for speech issues and other problems as well. The thing that confused them was my ability to pass standardized testing with no issues. They never could hold me back because I always held my own for testing. However, this did not prevent me from becoming labeled as “dumb” by other teachers, and I was simply written off as “below average.”
Despite this hiccup, I read at home in my younger years, but it was simple stories that I knew was a full level below my age group. I loved chapter books and Scholastic paperbacks. When I was in 5th grade, I tore through the Babysitters Club books in a mere day. However, I didn’t seek out books, and it only caught my attention from tine to time. I wasn’t a consistent book worm. I held the same attitude towards reading for school. I hated reading the stories assigned. I developed the idea that reading for school was unfair and boring. I can recall in the 5th grade when my teacher read to my class the story of Snot Stew by Bill Wallace. Something horrible happens to a cat in the book, and I could recall my horror when the story was read. Everyone else in my class loved in, and I cried for the cat. I began to think that there was something just wrong with me. I never liked the books that my classmates did. One of my favorite books at home was the Reader’s Digest kid’s encyclopedia. All the other girls in my class loved stories about horses, while I adored fantasy and books on cats. The girls started to try to read books meant for older kids, while I was content with sweet, non-kissing books.
I also highly disliked AR (accelerated reader) quite a bit. It overjoys me to see that articles are popping up claiming that the program does more harm than good. I can say from a personal POV that the program isn’t working.
I entered in middle school with an unhealthy dose of hatred for reading. I stopped reading for fun at this point. I didn’t pick up any other books until high school. There were other things in my life that I was battling, such as crippling social anxiety, shyness, diagnosed depression, and the stigma of poverty. This wasn’t the best of times. I don’t like to linger on this period of my life.
In high school, I slowly turned my thoughts towards reading for fun once again. My main issue was the lack of knowledge about what was available. We didn’t have Goodreads and Amazon back in the day. I didn’t care for classics (I tried to read Cold Sassy Tree and HATED it) and I had no close friends to ask about book recommendations. I was lucky enough to discover Cynthia Voigt and Stephen King, but I wasn’t reading consistently. I also read a few Sweet Valley High books, but I was so insanely jealous of the girls that finally gave up on the series. I was a social outcast – why did I want to read about pretty, popular cheerleaders and beauty queens? I did borrow some of the horror paperbacks in my life skills class, since it was all the rage when I was in high school. I can recall two of the books that I enjoyed the most: One was about a girl killing off her classmates, because her sister almost burned to death (one was named Nell), and The Immortal by Christopher Pike.
When I became a senior in high school, I was brave enough to try AP English, which was a first small, tiny step towards developing a better attitude regarding reading. We learned how to dissect stories, and I know this is hard to believe, but I actually learned about symbolism and literacy devices to make a story more appealing. That’s right: I had to learn how to read a story. I began to GET it. I understood the baskets of dead sea fruit and what they meant. I adored a Tale of Two Cities and Things Fall Apart. For the first time in my life, I actually felt better about books in general.
Sadly, it was a little too late for me, and my interest began to wane during college as I tried to find out who I was (cue cheesefest music). I attended a community college and graduated as soon as I could with my associates, and I never considered reading as a hobby because I never warmed up to adult books. I still had the notion that I was simply not intelligent enough to read for a hobby. Public schooling had left a permanent scar.
I graduated school, and soon abandoned my chosen field as a veterinarian technician – I HATED working for a vet. This wasn’t a good point in my life. I was in my 20s, drowning in debt, freaking out that I was single, slowly realizing that I was agnostic, abandoning my old labels and life, and I still had no clue about who I wanted to be. I wandered in my life for a while. I worked in the freight division (a horrible, horrible business) and I struggled with my depression and my deep-seeded acceptance of my stupidity.
Now here comes the happy part!
Finally, in 2008, one of my closest friends introduced me to a book that broke the cycle of book hatred: Twilight.
Take a breath.
Yes, I said it: Twilight actually ushered in my newfound love for reading. I discovered that other adults loved reading YA fiction. I wasn’t alone! I discovered Goodreads, and I connected to others. I started to see that I was going down a dark path in my life, and I returned to school for my bachelor’s degree in science. I discovered I wasn’t stupid. I discovered that it is okay to be a slow reader. I finally knew that it was fine to read graphic novels and Star Trek novels and young adult fiction.
And here I am today.
So, Twilight pulled me out of a hole. It was the gateway other and better books. I am also shedding the idea that I am stupid and lowly and below average.
What about your own history? Did you like reading when you were a kid? Are there any topics you would like to see addressed by us for Imaginative Discussions?