The Ups and Downs of My Reading Life by Stacey Shubitz

Whenever my grandparents babysat me as a child, they engaged me in pretend play.  Playing library had me sitting with a pillow on my lap (my makeshift circulation desk, of course) checking out books for my grandparents.  I always reminded them to “return the book on time or you’ll pay a fine!”  In addition to pretend play, my grandmother read me lots of books, with my favorites being from the Curious George series.  Later in life, she repeatedly told me I had her read Curious George Goes to the Hospital so many times that she memorized it!

My grandmother was a novel reader and my grandfather was a newspaper reader.  Like them, my mother devoured novels and my father read The New York Times daily.  Therefore, I had good reading role models at home.  My first two years of school were spent in classrooms with teachers who cherished read aloud time and read picture books aloud often.  I vividly recall my first grade teacher displaying the books we wrote in writing on the classroom bookshelves next to the published books.  I remember publishing lots of my own books and reading lots of my friends’ books that year.

By second grade, though, I became disengaged as a reader.  My teacher chapter books aloud to us, but she didn’t confer with us when we read books independently.  While she gave us long periods of time to read independently every day, I never recall chatting with her about my books.  I spent the year borrowing books with nice covers from the school library, but I never got into them.  (The present-day literacy specialist in me thinks the books were probably too hard.)  Instead of having the guts to talk to my teacher about my disengagement, I simply turned the pages of my books a second or two after the girl in the next desk turned hers.  Sadly, my teacher never caught on to me and I lost ground as a reader that year.

My parents introduced me to Judy Blume’s Fudge Series the summer between second and third grade. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing had me gasping for air.  Since I thought it was so funny, I read most of the book aloud to my parents from the backseat of our rental car as we drove across the American Southwest. I devoured Tales and Superfudge.  Therefore, my parents stopped at a bookstore in Salt Lake City and bought me Blubber.  By the time we reached Bryce Canyon I was so engrossed in the story I refused to get out of the car to look at the hoodoos!  Nearly thirty years later they’re still teasing me about the fact I wouldn’t get out of the car to admire the natural beauty at Bryce because I was reading.

Despite my glorious summer of reading Blume’s books, the book bug slithered off and didn’t return until sixth grade when I discovered The Babysitters Club series.  However, by seventh grade our teacher didn’t “give us credit” for reading books of our own choosing.  Full class novels became the books I had to read and therefore it’s all I had time to read.  I remember struggling to get through some of them; my eyes glazing over the pages we were assigned to read for homework.  I became so turned off from reading in seventh grade that I rarely picked up a book for pleasure since reading felt like a chore.  Therefore, I turned to teen magazines, which were short and highly entertaining, when I had downtime.  As a result of the class novels I was assigned to read throughout 7th, 8th, and 9th grades, I became disconnected from reading books of my own choosing for a few more years.

In tenth grade, my reading life was revitalized by Frank Dippery, who was one of the finest English teachers around.  I looked forward to his class because he had a great sense of humor.  He kept us entertained while we had thoughtful discussions about some books like 1984, Animal Farm, and Our Town.  He pushed me to think critically and to do my best work when I wrote papers for his class.

I made it through the rest of high school finding books I enjoyed reading.  While there were still more class novels, I was fortunate enough to have teachers who engaged us in rich discussions about the books we were reading.  As long as I could discuss books and not answer a bunch of comprehension questions, I was happy enough as a student and as a reader.

Like Gigi McAllister, I didn’t become a real reader until my twenties.  In fact, I rarely picked up a book for pleasure until Nicholas Sparks get interviewed about The Notebook on “The Today Show” in 1997.  The plot of the book intrigued me so I bought myself a copy.  Sparks’s writing drew me in like nothing ever had.  In fact, I finished the book in one night, sobbing through my first book ever.  For weeks I recommended The Notebook telling friends it brought me to tears.  Friends nodded knowingly and looked at me with amazement when they learned I had never cried from a book before.

I have read almost all of Sparks’s novels.  But I have branched out.  I have laughed heartily through Jane Green’s books and have brought many of Jennifer Weiner’s novels to the beach.  I’ve sat on the edge of my seat through many of Vince Flynn’s political thrillers and have learned more about writing from different points of view from J. Courtney Sullivan.

I always seem to be reading a few books at a time. Two of the books on my night table are in-progress while two are on-deck.

I also read lots of nonfiction.  I’ve been captivated by books like Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, The Color of Water, and by What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self.  Now that I’m a parent, several parenting books have made me laugh (i.e., Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother), become more aware (i.e., Cinderella Ate My Daughter), and have caused me to take note (i.e., The Blessing of a Skinned Knee).  And of course, I read lots of professional books about reading and writing workshop, which supports my work as a literacy consultant and an adjunct professor.

My path to becoming a real reader looks like the jagged line of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.  There have been many ups and downs, but thanks to a strong family foundation and some wonderful teachers, I’ve become the kind of reader who finds pleasure in novels, an array of nonfiction texts, and in reading The New York Times daily.  Oh, and even though my days of reading Seventeen and YM are long gone, I still enjoy picking up a glossy magazine from time-to-time.

Stacey Shubitz is a literacy consultant and a former elementary school teacher.  She co-authored Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice (Stenhouse, 2010) with Ruth Ayres.  She has been blogging at Two Writing Teachers since 2007.  Earlier this year she started a new blog, Raising a Literate Human , which is about being a mother who aims to raise a child who can read the word and the world.  She can be found on Twitter at @raisealithuman.