Monday, April 21, 2014

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Epic Moment—Learning to Read
I remember the exact moment I realized I could read. I was in (hmmm . . . I think) the second grade. My family lived in a large drafty old house, and on Sunday mornings my father would get up early and light a fire in the living room fireplace to warm the house up. Then he read me the “funnies” from the Sunday newspaper. This time was a special ritual for me. The house was quiet. The fire was roaring. The cartoon “funnies” made me laugh.

I knew my alphabet and had begun to recognize words, so when Sunday mornings came around, I was eager to have Daddy read the “funnies” to me--with my help. I would pick out words I recognized and Daddy would have me say them instead of his reading them aloud. One morning as he was about to read ”Little Iodine” to me, he stopped and said, “You know the words in this cartoon strip. You read it to me.”

I looked at him blankly. “I can’t read, Daddy,” I said in astonishment, shocked that he would forget this.

“Yes, you can. Read ‘Little Iodine’ to me,” he said and pointed to the first words. Slowly and hesitantly, I began to read the cartoon, word by word but feeling the connections among the words. I read the entire cartoon strip aloud and stopped, feeling happy, excited, and a little anxious that I had suddenly developed this skill that I had previously associated only with adults. Sure, my older sister could read but she was three years older than I! It was a glorious moment–epic even–in my life.

Years later as I began my teaching fellowship in graduate school for my PhD in literature, my fellow neophyte instructors and I were gathered into small groups and asked to describe the moment that we realized we could read. Eveyone in the group except for one person remembered the moment in detail. The group leader said afterwards that research showed that people typically do not remember the moment they realized they knew how to read, but that literature PhDs generally do. I don’t know if this research is true, but based on my own experience, it seems probable.

Why I am thinking about reading? Reflecting on the process of reading last week led to more reflections–personal reflections about reading and how much it has meant in my life. Only one year in my life has not been given over to reading and that was the year after I finished my PhD. I felt saturated, wasn’t sure I would ever read as much again in my life as I once had. I barely made it through that year before I was back at my public library looking for something to read. How could life ever be boring when another book was waiting for me on the very next shelf? 

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