The other night, my brother called to inform me it was National Sisters Day, and I may have gone off on a tiny rant about how stupid it was that every single day was supposed to be a holiday of some sort. National Pancake Day, International Cat Day, Bolivian Toenail Clippings Day.
Apparently, today it’s National Book Lovers Day. And while I stand by my assertion that the concept behind a daily holiday is inane, this one is at least relevant to my life.
When I was a child, my parents had a deal where every A I got on my report card would earn either a book or a buck. I always took the book. Partly this was because I knew the books I was selecting cost more than a dollar and it gave me a sense of satisfaction to outsmart them, but mostly it was because I wanted the books. I was addicted to reading.
The first book that I can remember really loving, reading over and over again, was Lon Po Po.
It was dark and scary and beautiful, and dark and scary and beautiful quickly became my favorite kind of story. I must have been a hella creepy child, because I always had an appreciation for the macabre. As you can see in one of the first books I ever wrote, an untitled masterpiece in suspense, a scathing critique of our desperation to achieve immortality while burying ourselves in complacency, a thought-provoking examination of our inability to truly connect with others. May I present:
That collaboration with my sister is probably my greatest creative achievement to date. But I wanted to share it with you not just because it’s hilarious, but because it really does show how deeply my bizarre, twisted, dark sensibility has been in play. I’ve always been drawn to books and stories full of shadows.
As I got older, I admittedly read a lot of Baby-Sitters Club and Hank the Cowdog and Judy Blume, but at the same time my dad was reading aloud classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men and The Old Man and the Sea, and I think being exposed to challenging books like these at the tender age of 8 or 9 really warped my view of what an age-appropriate story is – in a good way. I think there are good stories that can appeal to a wide range of people with a wide range of ages and experiences in a lot of different ways.
The next book I remember falling truly and deeply in love with as a child was called Enchantress of Crumbledown, although it just took me 20 minutes of Googling to remember the title. It’s about foster children who are abused and run away to the woods where they take up residence with a crazy lady, and definitely follows the dark and scary and beautiful trend.
When I was 10 or so, I became somewhat obsessed with Bruce Brooks’ Midnight Hour Encores.
I read it again a few years ago, just to see if it would hold up, and I really think it did. To this day, every time I see a cello I remember Sibilance T. Spooner saying how she chose her musical instrument because it looked big enough to curl up inside. It’s sad and touching and the first book I can remember that really faced growing-up as a much longer and scarier process than most children think.
My sophomore year of high school I was introduced to two gentlemen whose names would forever be etched across my heart. Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and their extraordinary unflinching hilarious unparalleled alarming intense and beloved classic Good Omens.
I was transformed.
I had always wanted to be a writer. Always. But this book made me change the way I thought about how stories are created, how they are told. It gave me something to aspire to.
I have a confession to make. Somewhere along the way, in college I think, I stopped reading regularly. I picked up two or three books a year, but I had lost that voracious appetite for books that I’d always had in my younger years. Not coincidentally, this was also the time when I made the least amount of effort to pursue writing. I would still jot down short stories and prompts in notebooks, and I blogged for a while. I even started writing for a couple of websites. But I had lost focus, lost ambition. I had let myself stop believing I could do it some day.
A couple of years ago I started making the effort to read more again. I read for about an hour a day, about five days a week, and not long after I started doing this I started writing again.
In the last calendar year I’ve read 36 books and written 3. I read sci-fi, literary, classics, contemporary, nonfiction. I read Norman Mailer and Ernest Hemingway and Kurt Vonnegut, Hugh Howey and Margaret Atwood and Amy Poehler. I got all the way through Les Miserables, which I’ve been trying to do since I was 14. I got all the way through Midnight’s Children, which I don’t know if I’ll ever fully recover from. I crossed the Atlantic on the Lusitania, examined immortal HeLa cells at Johns Hopkins, checked in to the Overlook Hotel. I rediscovered how much I love books. I’m addicted again.
I don’t know. Maybe National Book Lovers Day isn’t such a stupid concept, after all.