Do you remember the book that made you a reader?

I may not remember the name of the book that made me a reader, but I remember the feeling of becoming a reader.The Center for Fiction has a lovely series called “The Book That Made Me a Reader.” It features acclaimed authors sharing their gateway books—the ones that inspired them to become readers. I love discovering what books moved authors as children and trying to find connections between that work and their work.

As for me, I can rattle off long lists of my childhood favorites, books I read and re-read so many times that their plots are more familiar to me than the events of my own life. But when it comes to the title of the first book that turned me into a reader, I find myself at a loss. I cannot remember the name of the book. What I remember is the moment reading became fluent for me, when the lines and squiggles lined up neatly on the page coalesced and bloomed into meaning, scenes, ideas.

I was in first grade, sitting on a little plastic-and-metal chair set up in a circle for reading group. I remember that the book was a hefty hardback laying open on my lap. I remember thick paragraphs printed in dark font with few pictures decorating the page, but that hardly mattered. What interested me was what happened as my eyes moved across the page: the whole worlds springing into existence in that mysterious, invisible place called my imagination.

The book that made me a reader of GreekA few years ago at a book fair in Athens, I discovered the book from which I learned to read Greek as a child. Had someone asked me for the title, I would never have been able to recall it. But I knew it when I saw it. Part of me wishes that would happen with my first grade textbook.

Even if it never does, though, the moment I became a reader will stay with me for as long as I have a functioning memory. It’s the moment I unlocked what words can do – mean and create and teach and transport – and discovered I didn’t have to feel trapped in the isolation of my own experiences. I could be alone and not lonely, in my head and in another world (hence the title of my book). And this has inspired me to return to books again and again and still.

Do you remember the book that first turned you into a reader?


4 Replies to “Do you remember the book that made you a reader?”

  1. Wow – the way you described realizing you could read and having that world unlocked for you, is pretty much the way I’d reply to this question, too. And that just blows my mind because as important as books have been to me for most of my life, I don’t remember THE ONE. But then again, your post and my foggy memories make me think that maybe it’s not always ONE book, right? It’s a whole process of learning to read, and then discovering things worth reading. Or knowing there are things worth reading, and finally understanding how to do that.

    In that sense, I guess the book that inspired me – well, books – are the illustrated fairytales my mom used to read to me when I was little. I loved the magic in her voice and I loved the pictures (your post also makes me think of how much of an impression illustrations can leave behind), and I can imagine that knowing how to read them myself and being able to pick them up and jump into those stories any time I wanted, must have been an amazing thing.

    Thanks for yet another lovely, thought-provoking post.

    Also, did you buy the Greek book when you found it at the book fair in Athens?

    1. Thank you, Alysa! I’m with you that it’s hard to boil it down to one single book. There’s the “aha” moment, and then there are the many books that reinforce the first excitement.

      Yes, I did buy the book. Then last year, I found two other editions at two other book fairs (one at my son’s Greek school and one on the island my parents are from) and picked those up too. So now I have three versions! 🙂

  2. I’m so glad you bought the book – three versions of it, no less! I always feel so let down when someone talks about seeing this book that means a lot to them and might be hard to find, and then just walking away from it.

    1. Barring not having the funds, that is rather odd! As you can imagine, that’s not something I can relate to…

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