Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Seven things I like - Part three

3. Fiction

In elementary school our librarian’s name was Ms. Sakovich. She had short, spiky blonde hair and a thin face with a nose like the blade of a knife. Her clothes were a constant source of wonderment – vests with spirals of bright colors and huge wooden earrings shaped like animals. I remember thinking she had a strange, almost grating voice. But when she read to our class, cross legged and eager on the huge oval rug, her voice was never her own. Every character had a different accent, a different tone.

When I started middle school things changed drastically. Apparently it wasn’t cool to check out books from the library anymore. Girls weren’t trading stickers and chapter books over recess; they were being chased by boys and whispering about crushes in giggling huddles. I wasn’t very interested in that. In fact, I wasn’t much interested in our lessons either. I preferred to sneak a paperback behind my textbooks and binders, often getting caught and reprimanded. Had my parents known that I’d grow up to be such a difficult teenager, I doubt they would have complained so much about the notes on my report cards that, back then, read: Often caught daydreaming, does not pay attention, needs to read assigned material.

The middle school library wasn’t what I was used to – light, airy, full of skylights, and boasting a special reference room and a bank of computers. There was a reading garden with a small fish pond, flower beds, and stone benches, but I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to read out there. It didn’t have the inviting atmosphere of the old elementary school, with its wooden floors and thick, bright rugs. It took a year for me to get acclimated to more modern surroundings.

There was a program called Accelerated Reading that was meant to encourage students to read. For the most part, it didn’t. Only a hand full of students were interested in the points gained from checking out a new book, reading it, and then taking a test on its content. I, being the consummate nerd, decided that not only would I participate; I’d have more points than anyone. It was the first tangible goal I ever set for myself.

I began spending lunch and recess hunting for books with the most points. The librarian, Ms. Gibson, took a liking to me and offered me the job of checking in and shelving returned books. I became such a fixture there that I was allowed to leave classes early and help her, as long as I’d finished all my work. She was a tiny, dark haired woman with a ready smile and a soft voice. Sometimes when I stood behind the big counter, with my glasses slipping down my nose and my volunteer badge swinging on its lanyard, I’d pretend I was her. Everyone there certainly treated me like an adult, like a fellow faculty member, each time I walked in the doors. It was a heady feeling.

There was only one other girl in school that read as much as I did – Christina. We couldn’t have been more different if we’d tried. She had a round face with a turned up nose and long, thick brown hair. I wouldn’t have called her pretty, but she certainly wasn’t a geek in glasses and braces like me. She had an air of superiority about her and when she started spending more and more time at the computers taking AR tests, I was worried. I thought maybe we might become friends for our shared love of reading, but no. She was quick to inform me that her reading tastes were far more advanced than my own and she intended to win the AR contest by a landslide.

She didn’t. She only won by a few points, but at the awards ceremony, when they called my name for second place, I couldn’t see it as anything but a failure.

I didn’t try at all the next year. And, though my reasons for backing away from the competition weren’t very admirable, it ended up helping me in the long run. I realized that I was happier reading just for me than I was reading for the purpose of winning.

That was 14 years ago and I still love reading more than anything else, even writing. I still sneak paperbacks behind binders and walk and read at the same time. I’m still often caught daydreaming about a novel I just finished and paying attention will never be my strong suit. I’m still the consummate book nerd...just with a slightly cooler exterior.

And while my taste is rather eclectic, I still prefer fiction. I’ve read nonfiction books and thoroughly enjoyed them, but they don’t have that same magical pull.

Because in a nonfiction world, I’m a 25 year old single mom that lives at home with her mother.

I have a decent job for someone with no college degree, but no clear idea about the direction of my professional future. I have bills and responsibilities that overwhelm me on a day to day basis. I fear that I might never meet anyone special...and I fear that I will. My five year old daughter starts kindergarten this year and I will attend parent/teacher meetings and have adult conversations I’m sure I don’t know the first thing about.

I burn meals and cry about broken eye shadow compacts. My sense of humor is, more often than not, tasteless and I could never, even at my best, be classified as elegant. In a nonfiction world, everything is real...boring. Sometimes unbearably so.

Oh, but in a fiction world!

In a fiction world I’m a 17 year old red headed Russian, passionately in love with a Chinese communist. I pick pockets for the fun of it and take off on dangerous adventures, making friends and enemies both along the way.

I’m a sultry Southern belle in love with the wrong man for all the wrong reasons. Greedy and self absorbed, but passionate and strong. I wear gorgeous gowns, dance at balls, and kill a solider or two when they deserve it.

I’m a vampire, an actress, a time traveler, a hobbit, a secret agent, and an intellectual with a horrendous hat. I have steamy sex with virtual strangers and shoot bad guys down in dark alleys. When I fall in love with my best friend, he falls in love with me back...even if it takes him a few chapters to get there.

But life is what you make it, I know that. In the nonfiction world I’m also young, healthy, and there’s no telling what excitement or adventures the future may hold. There are a lot of pages left to turn...and I’ll turn them with relish.

I’m learning to set limits on my forays into the fictional world, because it’s obviously easier for me to get lost in it than most. I’m learning to look up and participate in this nonfiction life, even if the hurts are real and the sex isn’t made for a Harlequin novel.

Even so, a part of me will always be that girl hunched over the latest fantasy, with her glasses slipping down her nose and a worn out library card burning a hole in her pocket.


MJenks said...

Okay, good. I'm glad I'm not the only one who still likes to pretend that he's something that he will never, ever be.

Hooray for Imagination!

Philip said...

Utterly brilliant. I'll come back tomorrow and comment properly.

Philip said...

You are every bit as much of a writer as you are a reader. You tell stories beautifully. Thanks. P.

Sara said...

This was so beautifully written and so ME. I was also an AR nerd back in the day. I think I got second place, too. Some dickface boy won the contest.

Still, I am totally with you on fiction being the best. The only nonfiction I can really get into is autobiographies. And that's because they're usually crazy enough to feel not real, you know?

mo.stoneskin said...

You may have geekily set out for the most reading points, but at least you didn't used to run to school stupidly early so that you could read the Hardy Boys books that for some reason the school wouldn't let you take home...

And at least you didn't slip one day, while running and waving across at some classmates in a mad moment of lust for Hardy Boys and while overlooking the fact that it was frosty.

Oh yeah.

They carried me in to school, I woke up with a sore head in the school office.

Tend to stay clear of red headed communists and chinese russians myself, but hey, that's just me.

Susie Q said...

i love this post so much, i can see so much of myself it it, the shy geeky kid as the library assistant. So glad to have my love of books and reading expressed so perfectly in this post!

The Vegetable Assassin said...

I think you summed it up perfectly, the whole appeal of books. It's getting lost in another world and feeling snow blind and disoriented when you are plopped back in your own reality. I have the same problem with engrossing movies. If I see a really absorbing one I am always a little surprised when I arrive back in the real world and a touch disappointed. We live in reality. We deal with it every day, the good, the bad and the ugly. But in books that reality is exciting. It's all possible. Who wouldn't want that escape? And whose reality wouldn't benefit from a little fantasy now and then? :)

Manda said...

Book geeks everywhere should read this post. Lovely.

Eric said...

Red headed Russians? If spying means more ladies like the one that's been all over the news lately, eto fantasticheskim.

the eternal worrier: said...

This is a fantastic post.
I’ve often thought that I should read more non-fiction but as soon as I start I find I just get board. I miss the race towards the end of a novel. When you care about what’s happening to the characters so much and you just can’t stop reading. But I know when I’m really enjoying a novel because I will physically have to slow myself down from finishing it.

Judearoo said...

Really loved this. LOVED IT!

That being anyone for a while thing is what its all about. Couldn't agree more.

There was a time when I only ever read fiction. I'm branching out more in recent years, but I think that's still where my true reading love affair lies.

BugginWord said...


You're a plucky heroine in my mind.

Penny Dreadful said...

Fantastic. I loved reading too when I was young, it was such an efficient escape from all the things that made me so unhappy. After my last year of high school, though, I didn't read much for quite a few years - dissecting novels like they are cadavers really takes the joy out of it. I'm so grateful that I never studied English at university, and reading has remained something for MY pleasure only.

Great post, really enjoyed it

ps My best friend WAS a better reader than me. It tore me up way more than is probably healthy for a ten year old. Or even a thirty year old. I'm amazed we are still friends.

Madeleine said...

Fellow Book Geek, I salute you!
I was that kid, reading behind my school work. My mum got called into speak with the headteacher cos I was reading and refusing to do maths.
The world in those books was always better than my reality, which was deadly boring.

You're Lucky I Don't Have a Gun... said...

i love the way you described all the characters you can be. i WISH i was more into reading than i really am. the only books i ever got essited about were Choose Your Own Adventure. -because i'm a nerd with a short attention span.