A couple of weeks ago at church, we were having a discussion about books, and two of my whip smart friends, Meg Conley and Hannah Pritchett, mentioned that when they were young, their parents gave them a bedtime rule: You can stay up as late as you’d like — as long as you’re reading.
Both of these women are prolific readers, going through pretty epics stacks of books every year. And both women credit some portion of their deeply ingrained love of reading to this bedtime rule. Both women also mentioned reading some pretty heavy stuff in elementary school — I think they mentioned Of Mice and Men in 2nd grade, and The Color Purple in 4th grade — and they were deeply affected by those books. It got me thinking about my own reading habits.
– I don’t remember a particular bedtime reading rule at my house growing up, but I do remember lots of late-into-the-night-reading. I loved reading and devoured books.
– In general I read stuff that was aimed at my age group — like Judy Blume in elementary school. And I remember reading To Kill A Mockingbird in 7th grade on the recommendation of my teacher, and understanding it was a “real” book.
– Also in middle school, in maybe 6th or 7th grade, I have a strong memory of being at the public library with my mom and I was checking out a stack of V.C. Andrews books (remember Flowers In The Attic?). I had already read two of her books, and wanted to read the rest. We were standing at the check out, and the librarian started lecturing my mom. “Do you know these books are full of filth!? Incest and promiscuity!? I can’t believe you’re letting your daughter read these.”
My mom just looked at the librarian, said, “Thank you for letting me know,” and we finished checking out the stack of V.C. Andrews books. It was clear to me that my mom could care less about what the librarian had said, and she never mentioned it to me again.
Later, as I looked back, I understood that much of what I’d read had gone over my head, and that my mom was right not to worry about what I was reading. For example, when the librarian mentioned incest, it was the first time I’d heard that word and had no idea what it meant. For me, it was better that my mom just encouraged my passion for reading. Had I been lectured or made to feel guilty about my book choices, would I have stopped reading? Or liked it a whole lot less? Probably.
– Possibly related to things going over my head: I don’t have a ton of recall as far as books go — especially novels. I could re-read the same book every other year or so and I swear it would be like reading it for the first time. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, because I might remember the major plot line, or a specific twist in the story, but in general, I forget most of it.
– As I mentioned, growing up I would devour books, but in high school and college, I discovered there were certain famous authors I had a hard time getting through. I remember it took me 7 tries to make it through A Farewell to Arms, and I struggled to make it through Edward Abbey books too. Lately, it’s occurred to me that maybe what I don’t like is writing that feels super-masculine. (Don’t get me wrong, I love lots of writing from men! Wallace Stegner is one of my absolute favorites.) It’s a fairly new thought to me and I’m still rolling it around in my head. I’ve also always had a hard time reading the scriptures and maybe it’s because the writing is so male — in a way that I have a hard time relating to. Or maybe it’s that I don’t relate to how certain authors write about women — like I don’t feel seen when I read them. You know?
– I read a ton now, but maybe only 15% of what I read these days is actual books. Everything else is long or short form essays, articles, stories, poems, etc. online. And by far, most of what I’m reading now is non-fiction. As I type that out, I admit, it makes me uncomfortable. I want to read books more — part of how I think of my identity is as a book reader — and I need to make an effort to do so if it’s important to me.
Incidentally, after the book discussion at church, I mentioned the bedtime reading rule to my 3 youngest kids: how would you feel if you could stay up as late as you wanted — as long as you’re reading (and no screens/e-readers — it has to be a paper book). All three said they’d rather get enough sleep, and were concerned they would be tired the next morning. Hah! Perhaps they have inherited my love of sleep more than my love of reading. (I love both dearly!)
Did you have any reading rules at your house growing up? Were there forbidden books? Or bedtime reading allowances? Do you consider yourself to be a big reader? Do you have any memories of particular instances that encouraged or discouraged you from reading? Did you start reading serious books at an early age? I’d love to hear.
P.S. — Our reading loft.