Monday, August 9, 2021

Book Girl

"A woman who reads is a woman who taps into the fundamental reality that she was created to learn, made to question, primed to grow by her interaction with words. A book girl is one who has grasped the wondrous fact that she has a mind of her own, a gift from her Creator, meant to be filled and stretched, challenged and satisfied by learning for all the days of her life. A woman who reads is one who takes ownership of herself, aware that words give her the holy power to seek, to grow, to question, and to discern. She knows that to read is to begin an adventure of self-formation in partnership with the Holy Spirit that will shape the choices she makes, the dreams she bears, the legacy she leaves in the great tale of the world."

Sarah Clarkson Book Girl p 34

I have always been a book  girl. I don't remember a time when I could not read. My parents are both readers and I probably picked it up by osmosis, following their fingers across the page as they read to me. I was given the impression that this reading business was fun; but not only that, it was important. What child doesn't want to do important things?

I distinctly remember my first days in kindergarten. I was excited; I'd been told I'd learn new things! We learned the Pledge of Allegiance (to this day I distinguish my left and my right from how I stood facing the flag in that classroom). We had a game, song-time, then we settled down to work. On the alphabet. I was baffled - this wasn't new! I did it for the first week, until I felt safe enough with Miss Gibbs (the gentlest of souls but I was a wary child) to admit to her that I already knew my alphabet. I already knew how to read. I said this with some trepidation as I didn't want to get kicked out of kindergarten because I knew more than the other kids.

I grew up in a rural Indiana community with about 0.1 percent diversity of any kind. Miss Gibbs was my first exposure to an African-American. She was beautiful, with a well-modulated voice, quiet and warm, and with infinite patience. I loved her dearly. Didn't even mind when she married over Christmas break and became Mrs. Whalen (though it was hard to remember the change). Knowing the alphabet already was certainly possible but she was, understandably, a little skeptical that I could turn all those letters into reading.
She sat on one of the little chairs, pulled me close to her side, and asked me to read a book to her. She chose, I read. After three books, she was convinced. From then on, at alphabet time, I was given worksheets to practice printing, or math worksheets, or sometimes coloring pages. I wasn't kicked out of kindergarten and I did learn new things!

I devoured words. I've read, through my life, anything I could get my hands on. Cereal boxes, of course. Dad's Andre Norton, Mom's current fiction. They didn't curtail my reading. If I had questions, we could discuss. I think I read Valley of the Dolls when I was 10. That was shortly followed by Flowers in the Attic and Salem's Lot. Yuck. That was when I realized that just because it was a book didn't mean I had to pick it up. I stay away from horror, movies and books. The books are more detrimental to me; I put my own images to the words which is much more realistic than the gore pictured on the screen. I read Mom's romance novels throughout my teens, until I was glutted. Then I had a realization. I was growing increasingly restless, not only with those books but also with my life. I wasn't catching a stranger's eye across my algebra classroom. Nor was any handsome rogue eager to rip my dress away from my heaving bosom. And I had a sneaking suspicion that if one tried it, I would knee him in the groin and run away. 

I came to the realization that I was dissatisfied with my life because of the words I was stuffing into my head. They were giving me unrealistic expectations. My ordinary life didn't measure up. I'm so glad the Holy Spirit led me to that realization. Otherwise I would have kept up my steady diet of the stuff of unreality as a means of "escaping" my ordinary life. This is the siren call of soap operas and porn magazines; any addiction really. Unrealistic expectations.

So I cut out romance as a genre of interest (recently I've let it back in, a book here or there, if highly recommended by a trustworthy source). Discernment. Knowing what suits your life, your season and circumstances, your available all matters in the reading life. I can't go willy-nilly through the library stacks pulling out random titles. I have to have a plan. I have a to-be-read list as tall as I am and getting bigger by the day (I put asterisks by titles I really want to read before I die). Then I choose my books to look for by what I want to get out of them in the next month. Am I having trouble praying? I'll choose reading to address that need. Just a bit of fluff? A mystery to read in waiting rooms. I usually have several books going at once, a practice I learned from my husband. And I've learned (though I still feel a little...guilty) to abandon a book if it's going nowhere for me. I once read The Catcher in the Rye for "fun" : I loathed it. And I thought, but this is a classic; I must have missed something. And I read it again! Nope, hadn't missed anything, still hated it. There's no more of that. I've tried 3 times to get through War and Peace; the last time I was more than half-way through. I cannot do it. If I've abandoned a book 3 times at 3 different seasons of my life it's time to throw in the towel.  Some people can do this innately; I had to teach myself, to give myself permission to put a book down without finishing it. I have a page at the back of my book journal that simply says DNF (did not finish). I put the title there with a line or two of why the book wasn't for me. 

Through the years I fed many interests and learned much with words. From all the poetry as a girl, confidence-building as a teen, college degree in Bible, other cultures while single, marriage and family, child-rearing and homeshooling, different abilities and love languages. I read my way into the Catholic Church. Books have shaped my life. Let them shape yours.

     "Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading."

                            Rainer Maria Rilke Letters to a Young Poet