This week, the prompt over at Mumturnedmom is “books”. I’ve also been doing a relatively great amount of reading this week, so thought I’d choose it as my word for the week too.
Books were a significant part of my life growing up. Both my parents used to read to me and my sister from an early age on. My father would read us comic and picture books such as Winnie the Pooh. He’d use these weird voices for the characters, which I always hated. As I got older, he read me a children’s book of Greek mythology. My mother read us the likes of Annie M.G. Schmidt, a very famous Dutch poet and children’s book writer.
I learned to read at around age four or five. My mother made little books for me with one or two words on each page. She used rub-on letters so that the print was clear and large enough for me, being partially sighted, to read it. There were books themed “house”, “school” and many others but these are the ones I remember. Later, I’d borrow large print books from the library children’s section, but many had too small print and yet were too easy for me in terms of vocabulary.
As my vision got worse and I had to learn to read braille, my interest in reading books decreased. I’d still read the odd children’s book, but most of the time, I’d stick to the library for the blind’s audio magazine for children age five to nine. I don’t think I read many audio books at the time, and as I said, I didn’t like reading braille.
As I got older, the gap between my potential and my reading ability widened. From fourth or fifth grade on, my parents began insisting I read books even if the school hadn’t assigned it. They probably felt the school underestimated my abilities and cut me too much slack. I remember at one point in fifth or sixth grade being up till what in my memory seems like the middle of the night because I still craved my goodnight kiss and my parents refused to give me one until I’d read a certain number of pages. My parents also tried to positively stimulate me to read. For example, I at one point had the Dutch translation of Alice in Wonderland in braille and, to show me he was taking on a challenge too, my father decided to read the book in English at the same time that I read it in Dutch.
I never became an advanced or avid fiction reader. In high school, I hated having to read adult literature. In reality, I didn’t start enjoying middle grade fiction until I was at least fourteen. By then, while all my classmates were reading young adult or even adult literature, I enjoyed every book written by an author named Caja Cazemier I could get my hands on. I still enjoy reading her books.
In high school, I read exactly the amount of Dutch and foreign-language literature I was required. I got many literary novels from my parents, but still have only started on a small percentage and finished only the humorous ones. One of the main reasons I didn’t end up majoring in English at university was the vast amount of fiction reading required. I was in fact scared when, having singed up for linguistics, I was sent an at the time quite popular literary novel to read in prep for freshman introduction. It was also said that humanities department students would frequently hear this book mentioned during lectures. Fortunately, the linguistics majors didn’t have to read this book after all. Either that, or I dropped out soon enough for the book never to be mentioned in lectures when I was in attendance.
Perhaps paradoxically, as a teen, I had the ambition of writing books when I grew up. I wrote a few, very autobiographical attempts at children’s novels. My most successful attempt is a half-finished novel called The Black Queen about a high school student whose mother suffers from multiple sclerosis. It was one of the less (though still somewhat) autobiographical novels I wrote, and for once it was never my intention of having people “get me” through it. I still someday want to finish this book. Unfortunately, as I started writing mainly in English, I lost my ability to write fiction due to my relatively poor vocabulary and sense of style.
I still don’t particularly enjoy fiction. I do have a few children’s and teen fiction books on my to-be-read list, but the majority of what I still want to read, are autobiographies or non-fiction. This week, I have been reading Angels at Our Table by Ann Breen, a book of stories from families with children with Williams Syndrome. I also started reading Two Bipolar Chicks Guide to Survival by Wendy K. Williamson and Honora Rose. It’s a very humorous guide to living with bipolar disorder, in my opinion also relevant for people with other mental illnesses.