My long love affair with reading actually dates back to when I was a toddler – according to Mami, I had started the normal babblings of one-year-olds the world over. But somewhere along the line I just stopped. I didn’t talk at all. I underwent tests to see if I was deaf or developmentally disabled. By the time I was four, still not talking, I was diagnosed with Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD). Not a well known condition, one of the ways to describe it is that the nerves traveling from the ear to the brain – those little jolts of electricity running along the track – sometimes get derailed before they reach the central nervous system. The upshot is that I don’t always receive all the data that my ear gathered – when I hear someone talking, I don’t get the full message, especially if there’s background noise. And when you’re so little, it’s overwhelming enough to make you just want to stop talking at all – it’s such a bother.
Luckily I was sent to some really nice folks for speech therapy. So at 4 years old I went to a special school to basically learn how to talk. I have vague memories of flash cards with images of fruit and other common things. Apparently it worked and I eventually got back up to speed. But that therapy indirectly got me into reading at that age, too, since all the flash cards had the names of the item printed on them. I caught the patterns between these letter thingies and the images above them. And it wasn’t long before I became a raging bookworm.
My true induction was during preschool at Happy Acres when I flipped through a book and realized it was telling me a story about Dick, Jane and a dog. Goody, I love dogs! And now I can read stories about them! It was too cool to me.
But I didn’t start with the hard stuff right away. My gateway was comics. Daddy was a big bookworm too and one of my fondest memories was him taking me to Mr. Gaviland’s Used Book Store in San Marco. In my memory, this place was ginormous. Floor to ceiling, case upon case of books! But the true treasure in my eyes were the stack of milk carts closer to the entrance stuffed with comics – sure, i started with the baby stuff, like Donald Duck, Scrooge McDuck and Richie Rich. But it wasn’t long before I was on to the big kid stuff: super heroes! I still get so stoked when i think of some of the amazing issues i had spilling out of every possible nook and cranny in my bedroom: Wonder Woman (of course! female super heros were the super bomb), Superman, Batman, Fantastic Four, the X Men (and remember Black Canary? I thought it was too cool that she literally kicked people’s asses with her voice!) Man, I had some early issues, too! If ONLY I’d held on to some of those…
But it wasn’t long before I graduated to books. And the slippery, glossy pages of heroes were gradually replaced with books and books and books. There were some nature-related books, adventures like Kon Tiki or Jack London’s books. But it wasn’t long before i stumbled onto science fiction and fantasy. Asimov, LeGuinn, Tolkien – I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time when I was 9. What a trip! I don’t know how much of it I really took in at that age but I was completely enthralled with such a vast and different world.
Daddy had a running joke going on with Mr. Gaviland. First, we’d walk into the store – me with a big grocery bag full of books I’d already read. I’d leave it at the counter and then studiously pore over the undulating stacks of paperback, finding new characters and worlds to bring home with me. Once I had my booty, I’d bring it up to the counter. Daddy would take me aside and say “Ok, remember what to tell Mr. Gaviland.” I’d turn my most pathetic face to the store owner, sad puppy dog eyes and all, and say “Mami’s been trying to get us some new shoes but there might not be enough money left for our medicine. heavy theatrical sigh” Mr. Gaviland would laugh and then turn mock serious and go over all the books I’d brought and all the books I wanted. He always let me have my pick.
Mami would sometimes have to lure me outside and then lock the door behind me just so I could have some sun hit my face. As soon as possible, I’d cajole my way back inside and back into my room to put my nose back in my book. The only other thing I showed interest in at the time was sitting with my little Fisher Price turntable, singing to a stack of my dad’s 45s (mostly Beatles and Linda Ronstadt). That was all i needed to make me happy.
As a grown up, reading became something I did for work. It was dry, highly technical stuff and seemed to suck away my yen for reading. But the past year or so, I’ve come back to it and find myself curling up again like I used to. I thought I was so poetically dramatic when I used to climb the tree in the back yard and perch on a branch reading “Little Women”. But now I got my couch and my cat and Saturday mornings to lose myself in new universes of text. Works for me.