Thursday, August 19, 2010

Maggie's Thesis on People Who Live In Books

I'm going to blame my parents for my career.

I mean, really, it's all their fault that I turned out to be a novelist, because they were the one that got me hooked on books. I've been thinking a lot about what makes a person a reader and what makes someone out a non-reader and after a lot of thought and discussion with Lover, I'm pretty sure that it's all my parents' doing. (cue photograph of Baby Maggie doing the Writing Thing:)

In an attempt to be more academic and responsible sounding about it, I'm going to break down the anatomy of this particular reader into three big parts. I think these are why I'm a reader:

1) Enabling. My mom was a big enabler for our reading, growing up. She not only bought us books and took us to the library weekly, but she let us have a lot of autonomy as to what it was that we picked out at those places. I only remember one book being taken out of my hands, ever, and the rest of the time, I was pretty much allowed to read what interested me. There was never anything negative associated with reading, and in fact, it was a great way to get out of chores, because if you were reading, you were doing something useful. Unless you were reading DOGSBODY for the sixth time in a row, in which case she could think of better things for you to do with yourself.

2) Modeling. This one is definitely my dad's fault. It wasn't that my mom didn't read -- she did, especially non-fiction -- but it wasn't like the rabid novel consumption of my father. By the time I hit my teens, my father had walls of bookshelves, all full of paperbacks stuffed in sideways and longways and upways and downways because they wouldn't fit on the proper way any more. Michael Crichton, Dean Koontz, Tom Clancy, Jack Higgins. Guys with Guns Doing Things and Women. And because I wanted more than anything to be like my dad, and because I wanted to be able to talk to him about things that he was interested in, I read his novels. I jumped from Madeline L'Engle to Jack Higgins. When Jurassic Park came out in '93, I was 12, and I'd already read Crichton's original novel three times by the time we went to see it. (doesn't this explain a lot about me?) Most important, though, was the fact that my father never told me to read a book or that reading was fantastic for your brain. I just saw him with a book in his hand. So I had a book in my hand.

3) Participation. My parents both did this, but it's my dad that I remember most vividly, because he read the longer novels to us. He loved to read out loud. I have two brothers and two sisters, and the older three would all sit on my brother's bed while my dad read us Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon and Tom Swift books. I'm pretty sure he read the old Nancy Drew books, not the sexalicious new Nancy Drew/ Hardy Bros. combination mysteries that I took on myself. And I'm pretty sure it was the new Tom Swift that he read, not the rather moldy smelling old paperbacks from the library. I remember he did different voices for all the characters, something that I found myself doing when I read to my two youngest siblings, years later, and still later, to my own kids. Reading could be a solitary thing, if you wanted it to be (and in a house with that many people, often that was a positive, not a negative), but it was also a way to be together. 

So really, by the time I was a teen, I was sucked into reading without quite realizing why. (much like this rubber frog that I accidentally vacuumed up the other day)(it's fine)(really)(no, seriously, it's rubber, it takes a lot of punishment).

I still can't figure out why some of my siblings are big readers and some aren't (three are, two aren't), since we all had the same background. I don't think that those three things that made me a reader will make everyone a reader, but I'm developing this thesis (ohmigosh, I wish I had convinced my husband to name his new dog "Thesis" - how fantastic of a dog name is that?) that you definitely won't be a reader without them.

I sort of want to know more, though. What made you guys a reader? Are your siblings readers? If not, why do you think there's a difference?


beth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

My parents encouraged both me and my brother to read. I was always the 'one more story' kid at bedtime. Reading has just become a wonderful part of my life. That's probably why I did an English Lit degree...the books. :)

As for my brother, he had the same upbringing but is the scientific/technical one. He left the books, art and music to me.

Sarah said...

My parents aren't big readers, but they did read to me when I was little. (They read the newspaper, too, and now I habitually do that.) I hated reading until the second grade. It was hard and boring. My mom took me to the library even though I didn't like it, but my feelings about reading changed when I found a book series I liked: The Bailey School Kids. I was hooked on reading in a matter of weeks. What made me--and what keeps me--a reader are stories that I love.

Alkyoni said...

My grandma. Definatelly my grandma. She practically raised me and she reads A LOT. EVERYTHING! From People to Economics, to victoria Hilsop and Stephen King and even medicine!

Rachel said...

I think I'm a reader mainly for the first two reasons you listed, my mother carted me around to bookstores simply because she loved to read and thought I would too. But then I remember teaching myself to read when I was in daycare a lonnng time ago. I did so by reading off flash cards over and over again until I grasped the words. I think I taught myself simply because I wanted to be the best at every thing as a kid, so I just up and decided I wanted to learn how to read in my own way. I continued reading because my mother was always reading, she always made time to even though she worked long hours and had the mom job on top of it. Well, that and I was always fascinated with the fantastical stories the written word had to offer.

sam said...

That thesis is quite interesting! I have to admit that my parents weren't interested in books at all, at least that's what I remember. But as soon as I'd learnt how to read and write, I got a lot of books and devoured them. I "lost" my interest in reading when I was 10, because that was when we moved away and nearly all of my books got thrown away, but two or three years ago, I began reading again, and I've been addicted to it ever since. So, a part of your thesis applies to me. My sisters don't read at all, so I don't think I became passionate about books because of my environment, but because I like being given the view into another person's head and I love the beauty of an imaginary story/world. That's also why I write: everything that I don't see happening in real world, I write down. That way, it happens for me.

Rebecca Wells said...

Honestly, I don't get it. I'm a huge, incessant reader - both of my siblings, who were brought up in a house with lots of books and read-alouds and other fun stuff, have ceased to read. (At the moment, I'm blaming the lure of the internet and the television.)

Anonymous said...

This has almost nothing to do with how I became a reader but lots to do with reading. I just finished Ballad. You are amazing with dialogue! I'm quite astounded by your ability to create and maintain unique characters who live and breathe on the pages.

Thanks for writing!

Anonymous said...

I read not because my brother once read (I have always disliked him), and not because my dad loved his doctor books, but because I found a book I enjoyed and wanted more.
I haven't been a reader all my life. I hadn't even read a full novel until I was twelve years old. Then, suddenly, there was a craze for a certain book. I decided I might as well give it a try-I had nothing else to do in middle school. I read the book in one day. I read the sequel in less than that. Suddenly, I absolutely needed to see what this peculiar thing called a 'good book' was.
I have now many favorites which I keep in my old little bookshelf, and am adding constantly.
I started reading because it let me become... less self absorbed. I felt better because I could finally see that people were going through the same struggles I was.
My memory of that ending that first book is like a memory of waking up. I saw the world differently, and have fallen in love with it.

Anonymous said...

I was always surrounded by books as a child. Both of my parents read to me as a child and my mother was always happy to splurge on books through book orders at school. We also participated in the summer programs at the library every summer. My mom was an avid reader, and still is. My father only read newspapers and government documents for himslef, but never balked at reading Green Eggs and Ham for the 100th time when I asked. I loved reading so much, I became a reading teacher and made every effort to turn all my students into readers as well. I to this day give books as Christmas presents, baby gifts, gift cards to book stores to life often revolves around books.

My ex-husband thought I was crazy reading books to my belly and to my daughter who was just a newborn, but she is an avid reader just as I am and loves nothing more than heading to the bookstore for an hour or two!

My sister is a reader, but not to the extent that I am. I am also amazed at the number of children that do not have books at home and parents who do not realize what a detriment this is to young children. I often wonder, as you do, what makes a reader a reader. I really think it is to the extent to how willing parents are to read and purchase books for their children as well as how much choice children have in the choices they read. I also think the ealier children get "hooked" on reading, the more of a life-long reader they will become.

I love the insight that you have given into why you are an author and reader. I think without really realizing it, your parents saw the passion you had for reading and fed that passion more so than with your siblings that do not read. They may have been more interested in a sport or art or something else and put more emphasis on that for those siblings. Parents often ask me why their children are so different and I believe that unconsciencely(sp) parents treat children differently and it is those small nuances that make those children different.

Well, I think I have gone off on a tangent so I will end with that!


Kat Heckenbach said...

Dr. Seuss. I guess I have to thank him. My mom was great at reading to me when I was little, even though she wasn't an avid reader herself. An occasional nonfiction, but never fiction, and my dad was not a reader at all. But my mom read TO me. Lots of Dr. Seuss. I learned to read them myself then, at a young age. After that, I stumbled on books like Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh and you couldn't get my head out of them. I also had a great friend who was a total bookworm. I should thank her, because she recommended a lot of the books I fell in love with early on.

Here's an irony--my son *begged* me to teach him to read early on. Couldn't get enough of words. He was reading at a second grade level before his fifth birthday. He hates to read now--unless it's to find out information he wants. My daughter, though, who is still struggling to read on grade level is well on her way to being a bona fide book worm. Her initial hate of letters and words is blossoming into true love right before my eyes.

So where does that leave the thesis? And does it matter? Kids need books, and lots of them.

Ariadne said...

I fit two out of your three thesis points. My parents were enablers. My mom gave us books, dad bought us books and it was something that was really encouraged until I hit about 10 and they realized that I was reading ALL THE TIME. And then our grounding was from books, not tv or friends. Sad, no? Still, they loved that I was reading and so passionate about it and given my books of choice. So, I was still allowed to read. I was fairly free to choose my own reading, within reason. (Tom Swift? We have those - Did you ever read The Great Brain series? We loved those.)

Modeling? Well, my mom had/has a huge collection of books, but she rarely had time to read. Dad is not a great reader, at all. But he always encouraged us, albeit in a patiently indulgent manner.

Participation was very much key. My mom read to us every night and at naptime once we hit two or three. She always did voices and made the books come alive. She would read to us up to age 6 or 7, then we would start reading a longer book together over the course of weeks, like Lewis or Nesbit. This in turn inspired us to read aloud to our siblings, doing accents and making it almost a theatrical production. I vividly remember my sister reading to me in the car, and I read the entire LOTR to my brother.

Of my siblings, two are voracious readers, two are haphazard and one two small to call a verdict, but he appears pretty in love with the awesomeness that is books. The two haphazard readers both encountered activities that they found more interesting. For one - computers and video games. He is still a keen reader if he finds something he likes, but you usually have to bring it to his attention - he does not seek new books. I could not say why the other does not really read, but she does not share the same passion for books and words. I think despite every advantage some people are not readers, or Bibliophiles - part of it is just part of us.

By the by, I love your these:)

Zoƫ Marriott said...

You know where you said 'you definitely won't be a reader without them'? Not always the case. My mum grew up in a house where reading for pleasure was considered an idle waste of time at best and freakish at worst. Her dad used to tell her that girls didn't need to read! But somehow she became a huge reader anyway, and she and my dad (also an avid reader) passed that onto me. My sister is a big reader too; but she's married to a man who hasn't picked up a book since he left university. Only one out of their three daughters is a reader.

I think it's probably about whether the right book falls into your hands at the right time and you feel that dawning sense of amazement and wonder because you realise there's a whole other world right there in a BOOK. Once you've felt that, you're hooked. For me it was (embarrassingly) Enid Blyton, when I was about seven or eight.

Johanna said...

When I was really young my parents took me to the library a lot. But it was later I became an avid reader. It probably started with all my horse-books. I read so many, all the time, and refused to read anything else. Then all of a sudden I stopped, and started to read non-horse-books.
My family is big too, so I do it to get some peace and quiet.

BookLoss said...

It would have to be all three. My mom read my siblings and I to sleep until we were in middle school. And she encouraged us to read, she wouldn't read series like the Baby-Sitter Club or Nancy Drew, but would buy the books for me to read on my own.

Melissa said...

My mom was the avid reader and all three of us kids (2 boys, 1 girl) love to read. I read books after college but I wasn't as voracious as I am now (40's). I read during my lunch break and I have more time with my child being 11.

My son knows I carry my Kindle everywhere and says I am addicted to it but he HATES reading. I have taken him to bookstores and let him pick out anything he wants to read, he will buy it and maybe try to read a quarter of it before giving up. We used to read out loud together but he grew bored. I hope he will pick it up again one day. Maybe he sees it as "homework" for now. One can hope he changes his mind in the future.

Donna Gambale said...

We had a library 1.5 blocks from my childhood home. I read so much that my mom would bring home stacks of books for me, like 10 at once, and I'd be like "Mommm I just read that!" On days she went to the library for me while I was at school, she'd hide the books til I finished my homework because she knew I'd devour three (likely Sweet Valley High books) in one night and have to be dragged to the dinner table.

My sister likes reading, but she never came near my obsessive, addicted levels. Funny enough, my parents rarely read books (for themselves) growing up, but my mom would spend hours upon hours reading aloud to my sister and I. I got my mom into reading books for herself again when I was in high school. Full circle!

Genevieve Petrillo said...

The weekly trip to the library struck a chord with me. Newark Library, Newark, NJ has a HUGE library. Back in the day, my mother would drop us off in the children's room, and head upstairs to select an armload of books for herself for the week. My sister, my brother, and I were each allowed to choose only ONE book. Mom wasn't planning to hunt down more than that the following Saturday morning. I remember choosing a few books, and standing them up next to each other to measure which one was the "fattest". That was the one I'd take, because I knew it would last the longest. I turned into a reading NUT and a children's author. My brother and sister rarely read anything for recreation. Nature? Nurture?

Anonymous said...

Well, I have been a reader all my life, but it wasn't until my teen years that I became a book nerd. It was just something about trying to find the perfect story without trying to write my own that brought me in.

Anonymous said...

All three were accomplished in my house growing up! There were only a few books that I was told that I was probably too young to read (which meant I did) and I didn't get it. Of course, when I read it again *pie eyes* eegads! I saw why! Many times the genius which was my mom said, "did you finish your book?" when the disturbing news came on when she knew it would make me cry for days. Dad read National Geographic mags, the newpaper, and Popular Science. Mom...well, she read everything and had her author fazes so it was contagious. We did bedtime stories until double digits and memorized our favorite books! The older sib and I larger readers, but the youngers are catching up...*happy dance*

Tom M Franklin said...

okay, first of all, that picture of the vacuumed rubber frog is fan-freakin-tastic. (and i'm only saying that because i really, really liked it)

my parents were--and still are--voracious readers. the library was a constant in our life (including my years in a children's book discussion group) and some of my favorite places to hang out as a teenager were used book stores. (they still are)

my brother didn't catch the reading bug as badly as i did. now that he's driving at least 2 hours each day, he's an avid audiobook reader/listener.

-- Tom

Maggie Stiefvater said...

I am TOTALLY fascinated by your reading origin stories, guys! I have never been so cheerful to be proven wrong. It's interesting to see how some people's stories could be exactly mine, and how others are the complete opposite.

Knitika said...


I enjoyed your theories on reading. I grew up in a house full of books and have always been an avid reader. I married an avid reader, and in our 20 years together, we've always gifted each other books, been drawn like magnets to bookstores, and curled up together to read.

(Just this morning, a photo flashed up on my husband's laptop screen. The photo was of my husband reading on a rooftop in Spain and I mused fondly, "We saw that rooftop and both said, 'A place to read!'")

As parents, we've provided the same reading environment that you described. We buy a lot of books, took weekly trips to the library, nightly read-alouds. And one kid became a voracious reader, and the other kid did not. Both the reader (teen boy) and the non-reader (tween girl) have always scored high on those reading comprehension tests, and have reading abilities above their grade levels, but my daughter just isn't captivated by books. She can start a dozen books and might only finish one of them. It puzzles me sometimes that we could have a kid that isn't taken with reading, but of course we recognize that she's an individual developing along her own path and is going to be herself, not a clone of us. Recently, she's been reading a bit more, and it's obvious that her genre is chick lit, stories about girls coping with social calamities in middle and high school. So maybe she just needed to find her niche.

I also wanted to note that we as parents, like your mother, tended to be softies for kids reading. They could totally get out of chores and other duties by reading. They know we're a sucker for reading, and use that strategically. We knew we were being manipulated, but hey, they were reading. We both believe that reading is an important part of building good competent people, so we're quite willing to allow reading to happen.

We recently took a family vacation to Portland. The teen boy, the reader, said that his number one priority while in Oregon was a trip to Powell's. He wound up having to choose between a day on his uncle's motorboat, tubing and wakeboarding, and the trip to Powell's. He totally went book-shopping over boating.

Kearsie said...

You know, it's interesting looking back and pondering the question why I am a reader. We grew up very poor, yet my mom always bought me books from the Scholastic book catalogs that I toted home from school. We didn't have a TV for many years, which only fueled the fire of my imagination. I read and reread the same books, because I loved them so much. And now as an adult, I rarely go the day without escaping into a fictional world at least for an hour. If I can pry the iPod from my kids' hands, I'm pretty sure they would live to read too.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

@Knitika - I admit it, I let my kids off when they're reading too. It's GOOD FOR THEM. I love that your son chose a bookstore over boating!

Shelli Perry said...

My parents surely helped my reading fanaticism. Mom read to me when lil. Started with "The little sisters baby sitters club" when I started reading on my own. My mother signed up for me to receive a new book a month through the mail. The anticipation was epic. I remember every detail about that package; big clear, plastic bag with one of those weird lil hanger things on top. It came with stickers too hehe. They really instilled the love of reading, my parents. My sister is my reading buddy. We swap books, talk books, live, breathe and consume books. It's funny, I did'nt realize the impact my parents had on my reading habbits until reading your post. So, thanks are in order. Thank you for helping me see just another way my parents loved me ( as cheesy as that is! )

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