I remember the events of the day that I fell irretrieveably in love with books, even if I don't remember the exact date. I had gone to the Hamilton Public Library and borrowed The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis. I took it home, and when I opened up the book, I opened up the world. Up until then, I had merely been dabbling in books, it was a hobby that passed the time. On that fateful day, I learnt that a book could not only tell an interesting story, but it could take you to a world you had never seen before, and never would see. Animals could talk. Magic was the norm, not the exception. I was enchanted. I read the book 10 times in a row before returning it reluctantly to the library.
Books have played many different roles in my life over the years, but the most significant of them has been that of friend. As a hyper-sensitive, introverted girl, I found myself more that once deeply hurt by people who I thought were friends. The disparity inevitably arose from lack of understanding. When I made friends, I thought they would be friends for life, without comprehending the fluid, transient nature of most childhood friendships. I turned to books for solace. In them, I found interesting people, exciting new places and shocking new ideas.
Now I don't advocate replacing human relationships with books, but it illustrates how intensely personal reading can be, if you choose to invest yourself in the activity. Many people eschew reading these days in favour of sexier new technologies: television, movies, i-pods, and so on. Most notable among these is the younger generation. I say it's time to put the "sexy" back into reading. It's time to show our children that reading is not only necessary, it's cool. And it doesn't hurt that, in my opinion, every time you read a book you get just a little bit smarter. And smart is sexy, period.
For my part, I am going to introduce The Boy to some of my old friends:
1. Harry Potter (series) by JK Rowling Ok, so I thought I'd get this out of the way first because, technically, I didn't read these books in my youth, but no list could be complete without them. Incorporating magic with the universal themes of friendship and overcoming adversity, these books empower children. And any book that sparks an international reading frenzy, convincing children who don't like to read that books are fun, is ok by me. And the people who think that these books are an evil attempt to promote witchcraft or indoctrinate children into the Wicca religion, should go find something more pressing to worry about. If anyone cares to debate me on this point, I say: Bring It On. (no reference to cheerleaders intended...)
2. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis Well, duh, already mentioned above. But, I'd like to add that although the entire series was great, it was this particular book that caught my fancy. Stepping into a wardrobe, and ending up in a world where it's "always winter and never Christmas" - how cool is that?
3. Blubber by Judy Blume Most people would argue that Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret is the best Blume novel. Not me. Having struggled with my self-image my entire life, I empathized with Linda. I was also fascinated by the struggle of the main character, Jill. Who's side do you take? Should you make a stand, or keep quiet? How do we stop the bullying? In light of the increasing school shootings, many of which are a result of bullying in some form or other, this novel is timely and important still.
4. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster Have you met Milo, the bored little boy who can't find anything "to do, nowhere (he)'d care to go, and hardly anything worth seeing"? This book, more than anything, taught me the find the exceptional in the everyday. It also introduced me to the wonderful world of Word Play. If The Boy ever says he's bored, I'm going to hand him this book to read.
5. The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel!) by Ellen Raskin One of my absolute favourites during my Mystery phase, this is an interactive whodunnit that reads almost like a word game. The author encourages readers to help solve the mystery in footnotes like "REMEMBER THIS PART. WRITE IT DOWN. OR PUT A BOOKMARK HERE. THIS IS A CLUE!"
6. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler by EL Konisburg The perfect book for the Rebel Without a Cause. Claudia runs away to teach her parents a lesson: rebelling against the monotony of her life, unfair distribution of labor, limited television choices and low allowance. She sets up camp in the Metropolitan Museam of Art with her brother, solves a mystery and learns something about art. I loved every minute of it, and have yet to meet someone who didn't
7. Charlotte's Web by EB White A classic that needs no justification. It deals with some pretty heavy stuff in a way children can understand. I've never looked at animals in the same way since. SOME PIG!
8. Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary What can I say? I grew up with Ramona and her indomitable spirit and love for learning is with me still.
9. The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson When I was growing up, there weren't many books that had a boy-girl friendship as the central relationship, but this book is so much more than that. It teaches the importance of true friendships, valuing the "now", and also deals sensitively with the tragedy of loss. If you don't cry, I'd be surprised.
10. The Tomorrow City by Monica Hughes Basically a young reader's prelude to sci-fi novels like 1984 and Brave New World, this book is about a city controlled by a super computer. The author's focus is the idea that technology is not a perfect solution to the many problems solved by man. This book fascinated me and was in the regular rotation - I'd re-read it any time that I didn't have a book lined up to read next.
11. The Prydain Chronicles (series) by Lloyd Alexander One day I came across The Book of Three in a bookstore and bought it because of the interesting cover. I was instantly hooked, and eagerly read all five books in the series. It's the classic coming-of-age story of a boy who journeys from assistant pig-keeper to courageous hero, from youth to adult. It typifies the fantasy novels that I read to this day, and this book was the start of it all.
12. The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett A timeless classic that can be discussed on so many levels that I won't even try to start here. Suffice it to say that I fell in love with this book on the first page when I was introduced to Mary, the girl that nobody wanted because she wasn't pretty enough. Add to that a forgotten garden with no door, and I was lost forever to its charms.
Well, that my short list, anyways. A sort of "12 before the age of 12", in the vein of Kittenpie's recent post. If you have books to add, let me know.
I recently finished The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Near the end of the book, the author describes reading as an "an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day." I think that if I can teach The Boy to become a Great Reader, I will have accomplished something very worthwhile.