“The Library, Then Ice Cream,” or How I Became a Reader

When I think back on how I became happily addicted to books and reading, I inevitably focus on three things: ice cream, Europe, and mean kids.

Let me explain.

1. Ice Cream

ice-cream-cone

My mom read to me from the time I was a baby, but she really kicked my reading into high gear when she first said that magic sentence: “Let’s go to the library, Rachel, and then we’ll get ice cream.” I think I was four or five when she first said this, and as a lover of all things sugary, I probably knocked her down with my joy. ICE CREAM!!! I wasn’t quite sure what this “library” thing was, but ICE CREAM!!! Anyway, we’d go to the small local library and she’d tell me to pick out as many books as I wanted (within reason) to take home for the week. I’d make my selections, and then she’d hand them over to the librarian along with our card, and we’d walk out. I’d stop at the door, looking up at her quizzically, and ask, “but Mommy, don’t we have to pay for the books? Are they free?” She’d patiently explain that we were only borrowing the books and would return them after a week. It took a while for this to sink in, but I thought the library was just the most magical place (still do). And then, after all that awesomeness, I had ice cream, and I thought nothing could get better than this library-then-ice-cream thing we had going. I’m in my 30s now, and I still love books and I still love ice cream. Thanks, mom 🙂

2. Europe

Europe-travel

During my childhood, vacations meant one thing and one thing only: Ocean City, MD. Now, we did go once to Disney World, that’s true, but that was the exception. Ocean City, Ocean City- there HAD to be other places we could go for vacation, parents!! But when I begged, pleaded, and wept to go to Europe, they said nah, too expensive, too far, too much fuss, OC’s fine. But I was so desperate to sample the high culture, beauty, and history of Europe that I turned to my novels with even more of a vengeance. French, Russian, German, British novels- these would be my tickets to new adventures. Death in Venice transported me to early-20th-century Italy; Le Ventre de Paris whisked me away to France during the Second Empire; Crime and Punishment introduced me to the seamy side of Saint Petersburg. These books were my TARDIS. They still are, and my subsequent trips to Europe have been enriched by them. My more recent reading of books by Asian, African, and Latin American writers have expanded my thirst for travel even further.

3. Mean kids

meankids

I was never very popular in school, and I was an admittedly easy target for teasing (I didn’t have a very robust vocabulary of curse words, I was small and skinny, and I was gullible and naive). Suffice it to say, I didn’t like many of my classmates. So when other kids were roaming the streets or roaming the malls or roaming the land-fills or whatever, I was in my room reading. Or on the living-room sofa, reading. Or at the dinner table, reading. Or in the car, reading. Yeah, I went over a friend’s house here, or to a birthday party there, but I spent most of my time with my greatest friends- my wonderful books. They taught me about love, relationships, marriage, artistic creation, despair, work, racism, sexism, injustice, freedom, and commitment. They showed me the wide range of human experience and reminded me that I wasn’t destined to remain forever in my little corner of a little corner of the world. I could go out and experience what the books described, I could travel the world and see so many beautiful things. The mean kids were unimportant. Of course, I still wanted to “fit in” and be popular and all that, but my books were my refuge, my comfort, and my teachers.

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