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The Romance of Reading

For many people, February is a month all about love. It seems as though the Christmas decorations aren’t even properly packed away before store shelves are spilling with candy and cards so vibrant that we are nearly blinded by the pink and red hues. If you’re anything like me, by the time we reach February I feel that if I hear another jewelry jingle I’ll lose my mind. So, to give ourselves (and you) a bit of a break from the constant commercialism that is so common right now, the staff of Writers & Books has decided to reflect on a romance that we all share – our relationship with books.

How did you fall in love with reading? And what is it that keeps that flame alive?

For me, I first found out how much I loved to read from both my parents. My mother always read several bed time stories to my sisters and me, allowing us to each select a couple of stories and curl up with her before we went to sleep. (Robert Munch and Shel Silverstein were some of my favorites.) By age three, I was convinced I could read. As I got older, my father read C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia every night in the living room. They are still some of my most cherished memories and favorite stories. It’s strange to think that when I hit middle school I went on a reading hiatus.

For a few years I hardly read at all, and what was required of me in school I frequently spark-noted. (I’m still trying to forgive myself.) It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I once again discovered my love of reading. My English teacher, Mrs. Bielat, to whom I am forever indebted for fostering my talent for creative writing and encouraging me to pursue it for my future, told me that if I wanted to be a good writer, I had to be a good reader. I wasn’t convinced. She told me I should become a college English professor. I laughed. All of that began to change, though, when she allowed me to borrow her collection of Ann Patchett’s books. I read her first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars in a day.

It had been years since I had been so enthralled with anything. It was like finding an old friend, but meeting someone entirely new and exciting (and having instant chemistry) all at the same time. When I dusted off the shelf of my memory, I could recall how much reading meant to me as a child, but so much had changed since then. I had changed. Reading had so much more to offer me. It had the power to change me. And it did. I revised my plans and decided to earn my undergraduate degree in English Literature. Now, several years later, with my diploma hanging on my wall, I can’t imagine myself without books. Reading is such a part of who I am that I wouldn’t recognize myself without it. And, I have a feeling that most of the people who know me wouldn’t recognize me without a book and pen in hand (or lugging around a huge purse which carries several reads). Hemingway, Faulkner, Milton, Shakespeare. I will take them all and more. Reading has granted me the opportunity to meet new people (both fictitious and otherwise), share experiences both real and imagined, and expand my understanding of myself and others. It has caused me to alter my hopes and expectations for myself (a PhD in Literature never sounded so tempting). It swept me off my feet, it had me at hello (or page one), and it’s companionship is certainly enough to make the commercials for flowers, jewelry, and chocolates a bit more tolerable.

— Rylie Day

I love making new friends in the pages of a good book. Taking journeys with the characters, feeling their emotions with them, getting lost in their stories, and finding a truer part of myself in the process. My favorite books—fiction or nonfiction—are the ones in which I don’t want to stop spending time with the characters once I get to the last page.

— Sally Bittner Bonn

Lately, I’ve be rereading a lot of the books I loved as a teen. It’s been an interesting exercise, remembering who I was, how I became the reader that I am now. It’s been a lovely, slow reminiscence and I’ve been delighted to fall back in love with so many of the characters and adventures that nourished my imagination as a teen.

— Kristen Zory King

There is nothing more deeply satisfying than a really good book that takes you with it for a ride. Your heart open, your mind transported you get the chance to live other lives and see everything on the way… This sort of empathy can change the individual mind and, eventually, the world.

— Alexa Scott-Flaherty

I’m not quite sure how they teach reading today. I imagine there are some parents who are deeply involved with the teaching of reading long before their child even reaches school, and that some teaching probably takes place in school settings as early as pre-K.

In my case there was absolutely no attempt to teach me, or anyone else my age that I’m aware of, to read before first grade. When that time arrived, though, I have very distinct visual memories of what that first book looked like and the excitement of that learning experience.

The book was Dick and Jane, a giant version of which sat on an easel in the front of the room, so that our teacher could have two pages open at the same time and all of us gathered on the floor around her could see the words and pictures. “See Dick.” “See Dick run.” “See Jane.” “See Jane run.” Ah, I can still feel the sheer thrill of of it! Now I was becoming able, just like the grown-ups and the older kids, to look at a page in a book and be able to understand, finally, what all those squiggles meant, and how to turn them into words that could be read, out loud or just in my head.

In addition to Dick and Jane, we were introduced to Spot and Puff, Sally the younger sister, and, of course, Mother and Father. Far less important to me than the dynamics of the family, though, were the mechanics of reading itself. Yes, the pictures were important and tied the names and characters together, but I had looked at and grasped pictures for years at this point, (well, three to four years, at least). Now, though, at long last I could turn letters into words, and what an enormous step forward this was for me, I absolutely knew it was only the very first step in my future of reading many books.

— Joe Flaherty

“ I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

I couldn’t imagine not reading or being surrounded by books, at home and at work! I enjoy becoming immersed in the plot and the character development, plus trying to figure out the ending half way through a novel. It’s being more knowledgeable and well versed, and also leads to interesting discussions. These are all the reasons why my friend Lynda and I started our book-club – “The Lit Chicks” over five years ago. In that time frame we’ve read fiction, non-fiction, memoirs and classics. We’ve made new friendships, all stemming from the love of literature!

Reading in bed before going to sleep is comforting and relaxing, one of the other reasons I love reading!

Being part of the Writers & Books team is a natural fit being surrounded daily by fellow Lit Lovers. It’s great fun getting geared up annually for the “If All of Rochester Read the Same Book” program, sharing the love of reading with the Rochester community, encouraging it to become one huge book club.
Another joy for my love of reading is listening to authors share their writing process with the audience, and when they read various sections from their book, explaining what prompted them to write about it. That makes the story come alive!

— Kathy Pottetti

Happy Reading!

The W&B Staff