Child reading a book

My Relationship with Reading and How it Led to “The Perfect Book Experience”

My parents claim that I was two, maybe three years old when I started reading. It’s possible, I guess, but I suspect it’s more likely that I had become very good at mimicry and was memorizing what I heard when we passed street signs rather than processing the words I saw.

Still, my parents encouraged me and my brother to read when we were children. It helped, too, that our parents were bookbinders, and I grew up watching books being made, some of them specifically for me, while also reading whatever I could find. By the time memorization transitioned to actual reading, I was hooked: I loved reading.

In kindergarten, I was selected to read a passage from the “The Velveteen Rabbit” as part of a special presentation in front of the principal and our parents. It was probably just something they did for Easter, but I remember it felt important. In third grade, when my teacher was overcome with heartbreak, sobbing as she read aloud from “The Bridge to Teribithia,” she handed me the book and asked me to continue in her place. I read enough books for the reading challenges that I got free pizza. I read books in the car while waiting for my mom to finish showing property after we moved to Montana and she became a real estate agent. I can’t say that I was a precocious reader–I wasn’t reading Jane Austen in the 5th grade or anything like that–but I loved reading.

Then, in the sixth grade, the curriculum no longer rewarded students for the number of books they read (of their own choosing, mind you) but instead, focused on required reading. I do remember that there were a few books that made a significant impression on me (“The Giver”, “Night”), but for the most part, I was put out that I didn’t have time to read what I wanted to anymore because I had to read what I was assigned.

From age 12 to 17, I only read what was required of me, which sadly, was not very much. It was actually the Harry Potter books that made me fall in love with reading again, and by 18, I was back to loving books.

As I returned to my passion for reading, something peculiar started to happen–I became very picky about what I would read. Likely, I didn’t feel I had the time to read anything and everything, so I had to be choosy about which books I’d mentally invest myself in. This gave way to only reading what I was in the mood to read, rather than reading for curiosity.

There were a few exceptions. The most significant was my parents’ copy of “Dracula” that they had rebound when they were bookbinders, acquired only because the client never returned to pick it up. It was an edition published in 1896 and actually had a dead spider pressed into the pages. My brother had read it before me. Being that he was older and I wanted to do everything he did, I tried to read it, but gave up. Yet something grabbed me–the epistolary style, I think. I tried again. And then again. It wasn’t until the fourth time that I tried to read “Dracula” that I made it from start to finish. And then I loved it and I reread it a few years later. And again a few years after that.

My years in undergrad and then grad school trained me to appreciate books that were “assigned” so that I could read and enjoy something I didn’t pick out for myself. But years removed from school, I still find myself picking books based on my mood.

You see, part of what made me feel like I didn’t have enough time to read growing up was because I was interested in so many other things. I started dancing when I was four and continued until I was 18. I was a competitive swimmer. I played the piano and sang (for about two weeks). I played the clarinet and eventually went to college on a music scholarship. I played tenor saxophone in the pep band and piano in the jazz band. I played competitive tennis (poorly). I did a lot of things that were not reading.

Yet, the things I did that weren’t reading somehow came together to make me appreciate it even more. My over-scheduled upbringing led to a very natural talent for noticing the ways my interests overlapped. The music helped the dancing and vice versa. The dancing helped the sports. And years later, the discipline of practicing music and dance helped with the MFA in fiction and all the required reading.

With even more time, these experiences gelled into an unusual talent: I can tell you what a book sounds like and tastes like, as if I have synesthesia. (NOTE: I don’t have any significant culinary experiences from my past, so I’m not sure how to explain that one, but I do think that when you are practiced in jumping between many things, you can make comparisons of all sorts, whether your an expert in the things you’re comparing or not).

I discovered this talent every time I recommended a book to a friend. I found myself saying things like, “You know, have you ever heard that song “Riverside” by Agnes Obel? Reading this book feels like listening to that song.”

So, I used this talent and started a blog. It’s called The Perfect Book Experience. While you could call what I write “book reviews,” to me, I think of them as “book moods.” Because it’s not whether or not we should read a book (by nature of their existence, books should be read). I write these Perfect Book Experiences to help people decide what to read next.

If you’re like me, you would spend all day reading. But, life. My hope is that The Perfect Book Experience will help you find something excellent to read when you do have time to do it, and that it will be exactly what you’re in the mood for.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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