I have a confession to make. Come closer, so I can whisper! Okay, here goes: as a kid in elementary school, I didn’t go to the library and load up on story books. I didn’t hide under the covers with a flashlight reading well after lights out.
Of course, the reason I’m whispering this secret is because I’m a writer, and as you probably know, writers are supposed to be excellent readers from birth. Like my childhood friend Tracey, who would literally walk down the street with a 500-page book splayed open in her hands, reading while also attempting to carry on a conversation with me and our other friends Valerie and Judy, and eating a stick of licorice.
Clearly, next to Tracey, I was a total reading loser. Not only could I not read and walk and talk at the same time, but it would probably take me at least a year to read a book as long as hers, if I ever got up the guts to try.
Back then, I thought you were either born to read or you weren’t. So I was content with my lot in life as an average reader. I enjoyed all books by Judy Blume and Paul Zindel. They made me laugh and Valerie and Judy read them too, so we had fun conversations about the juicy topics like puberty and boys that these authors explored.
It is only now, so many decades later, that I look back and see that I actually was a big reader, but I didn’t really think the books I read counted because they were nonfiction. I vividly remember that in third grade we needed to do a report on a bird. I chose the Hawaiian honeycreeper. I went to the library with my mother and came home with a huge stack of books. I was lying in bed—it must have been around midnight—and I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited to learn about this bird. So I sneaked down the dark hall to the stack of books and opened the one on top of the pile and read a few facts, before I tiptoed back to my room.
In middle school and high school, I was fascinated to read books about the history of the town where I grew up, about the civil rights movement, and about the horrors of the Holocaust. It was in high school that I began to love reading books that qualify as fiction, although the novels I loved were still heavy on the facts: One of my favorites, Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Patton, was about a boy living under Apartheid in South Africa. Another book that made me think—a book I’ll never forget—is Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo, about a man with no arms or legs who came back from war in Vietnam.
Really, it is only as an adult, that I’ve become what I’d call a voracious reader. I’ve trained myself to be one, the way that some people force themselves to get in shape by working out, at first just running a mile but then increasing to six. I’ve always wanted to be like my friend Tracey, who was born to read, but I just wasn’t. So I pushed myself to read all kinds of books for all ages. I’d set goals of how many books I’d read in a month, in a year. I’d keep lists of what I read.
And then, one day, finally, I was off running. Not quickly, but still, I couldn’t stop.
Shana Burg is the author of Laugh with the Moon and A Thousand Never Evers. You can follow Shana on Twitter @ShanaBurgWrites or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ShanaBurgWrites.