Happy, happy Saturday, everyone. Though it was a short week here in the States for Memorial Day, I was super ready for the week to be over…
As I’m crawling my way out of my first big reading slump of 2019, I got to thinking about all the books I’ve read over the years. I can’t think of an exact age when I started reading. I like to think I’ve always been a reader. I remember my parents reading to me; I remember Scholastic book fairs and designated reading time in elementary school; I remember walking to and from the library every single weekend; I remember always being a reader.
And thinking about my history of reading also got me thinking about the people who inspired or encouraged me to read. I thought about that for a while, and I wanted to share that with you all this weekend. I think we should always talk about the people who inspire and encourage us to be ourselves. There are too many people out there trying to do the opposite, so make sure to take the time to celebrate the people lifting you up.
As I mentioned earlier, I remember my parents used to read to me. The Hungry Caterpillar, The Rainbow Fish, The Little Engine That Could… Those were some of my favorites. I can’t remember if my mom was the one who read to me, or if it was my dad, or maybe it was both… But I remember storytime. Unfortunately, as I got older, my mom turned away from literature—or, just fiction, really. She teased me for reading about vampires and werewovles, constantly told me to “get off my ass and go do something outside instead,” and one time even grounded me from reading for a week. Hard to believe she used to read me bedtime stories. My dad, on the other hand, has always encouraged me to read, and has done more than anyone on this planet to make sure I always have books available to me. At dad’s house, I had my own room with my very own bookcase filled top-to-bottom with books. He’d buy me whatever book I wanted. Trips to Barnes & Noble became a regular hot spot for us. When eReaders became a thing, he bought me a KindleFire HD and linked his credit card to it. He told me to buy as many books as I wanted. I didn’t, of course, because I didn’t want my dad thousands of dollars in debt. But I did buy a book a month for a while, and I’ll never forget that. In college, my dad bought all my college textbooks and literary novels. Still today, he buys me gift cards to bookstores. He is and will always be my #1 supporter in everything I do, including reading. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
Another family member who helped to build my little library is my grandma (my dad’s mom). My grandma herself is an avid reader. She loves cozy mysteries the most. I bet she’s read almost every novel in the mystery section of the Westerville Public Library. She’s always had a book on her nightstand, the counter, the dinner table. When I was little, she was the only person I knew who loved to read, and that inspired me. When she realized I got the reading gene from her, she started buying me all kinds of books. Kids books at first, of course. Then, in middle school, YA novels. My favorite story about my grandma, though, is this: one year, for Christmas (I was probably in 8th grade or so), she bought me a book about vampires, because she knew I was going through my vampire goth phase. Turns out, that vampire book was part of a series. Turns out, it was a vampire erotica series. Yup. My grandma is the person who introduced me to erotica at age fourteen. The series? The Black Dagger Brotherhood. Somehow, I got my dad to buy me the rest of the series. It was located in the adult romance section of Barnes & Noble, so I’m not sure why he wasn’t tipped off, but maybe he trusted me enough not to question it. Also, it’s just words on paper, so who cares? I love my grandma and all the ways she’s inspired me throughout my life. She always said her traits “skipped a generation,” and I was honored that she was talking about me.
In high school, when I finally transferred from online homeschool to public school in tiny Vinton County, I had perhaps the greatest high school English teacher for my junior year. Her name is Mrs. Goodson, and I’ll never forget her as long as I live. Now, going from 6.5 years of homeschool to my first full year in public school, I was a mess. Mostly, I was socially awkward and shy. I was always afraid to speak up in class, no matter the class, no matter if I knew the answer or not. But I knew I was going to really try for Mrs. Goodson, because the first day of class, she had the greeting, “Welcome to your penultimate year” written on the chalkboard. She asked the class who could tell her what the word “penultimate” meant. No one could guess. I knew the answer, but couldn’t vocalize it. When no one answered her, Mrs. Goodsoon gave us the answer: second-to-last. I think she saw me smile to myself and nod my head, because she was so nice to me and supportive of me that entire year. She introduced me to classic literature when my homeschool failed to do so. Romeo and Juliet, The Great Gatsby, Walt Whitman and other famous poets… I’ll never forget being one of the only students in that class to truly fall in love with the classic literature we were reading. That was the year the remake of Gatsby came out in theaters, and Mrs. Goodson organized an after-school outing to go see it as a class. That’s also the year we watched The Notebook during one of the last days of the school year. If you recall the film, Noah reads Whitman’s Leaves of Grass to help him get over his stutter. After the film, I told Mrs. Goodson I wanted to learn more about Whitman and Leaves of Grass. I loved his poetry. And Mrs. Goodson reached down to her bookshelf and gave me her own copy of Whitman’s poetry. I still have it and will cherish it forever.
That same year—my junior year of high school—I was accepted into Ohio University as a PSEO student. The program (now CCP) allows high school students in Ohio to take college courses (for free) while still in high school. All I had to do was enroll in the university, which meant scoring high enough on the ACT and also having a high enough GPA. When I was a senior in high school, I was taking entry-level English courses at the university with intentions of becoming a Journalism major, which meant I didn’t have to take senior English at the high school. One of those courses was a genre class taught by none other than Dr. Linda Zionkowski. The course focused on war literature, which I absolutely abhorred (or so I thought). One of the first books we read was The Red Badge of Courage, and I hated it. Needless to say, I was not excited for the class. I thought, Well, this is going to be the worst semester ever. It turned out to be one of the greatest. The rest of the syllabus was filled with amazing literature. I read Lark & Termite and The Things They Carried, and even discovered my love of Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms. I was enthralled with these books, and Dr. Zionkowski is a huge reason for that. She was my first college professor who truly blew my mind and had a way of teaching that captivated me. She taught me that just because you think you aren’t going to like something, doesn’t mean you won’t like it. She also encouraged me as a high school student to peruse literature, and in doing so helped me change my major from Journalism to English. I was excited to graduate from high school, continue my degree program at OU, and hopefully have more classes with Dr. Zionkowski.
Instead, I wound up getting a full-tuition scholarship to the University of Rio Grande. And yes, it’s okay that you’ve never heard of it. Until moving to Southern Ohio, I hadn’t, either. But free college, ya know? And I don’t regret going there. I made amazing friends. I met the love of my life. And I had fantastic professors, and one of them changed my life. I walked into my Film Studies class freshman year. The professor, Dr. Heather Duda, I’d heard was ruthless. You could never miss her class. You could never get an A on a paper. You would struggle. I wasn’t that nervous, though. I mean, I’d just spent 2 years of highschool at OU taking classes. I could do anything. And I ended up loving that class, and Dr. Duda herself. I learned more in all my 3 years of Dr. Duda classes than in any other class. She taught me how to write a successful academic paper. She taught me to always remember an adaptation is an interpretation of a work and not an exact copy of said work. She taught me that a work of literature is multi-faceted and can be viewed in so many different ways. She taught me a myriad of things, both in and out of class. She’ll forever be my favorite professor, and I think Rio would be less if she were not teaching there. I would up getting many, many A’s on Dr. Duda’s papers. I even got extra credit on two of them—the only student (as of 2 years ago) to achieve this. I could sit in a room and talk to Dr. Duda for hours without ever growing bored. I miss not only taking her classes, but just being around her infinite wisdom. When I say I miss college, about 50% of that feeling has to do with missing her classes.
So, there you have it, folks. These people have both encouraged and inspired me to be not only a reader but a lover of literature in general. Without these astounding human beings, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Since graduating college, I’ve found a career that allows me to work with and around books, and I am so grateful for that. Though I may never see some of these people ever again in my life, just know that they have bettered my life irrevocably. To these people, I say thank you. Words are not enough.