Monday, September 1, 2008

First Book Loves

"Once, in my father's bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later -- no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget -- we will return." -- Carlos Ruiz Zafon; The Shadow of the Wind, p.8

I love this picture of the impact a book -- especially that first resonating story -- has on a reader. For the narrator, Daniel Sempere, that book is The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. This book literally impacts the rest of Daniel's life, as it introduces him to his first crush, sends him on a quest to find out more about the mysterious author, and pits him against the eerie character who wants nothing more than to destroy all of Carax's works.

The quote above reminded me of my own first experience with an impact-filled, "echoing" read. Mine was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, my introduction to one of my all-time favorite series, The Chronicles of Narnia. I had already loved reading before this book, but this one just resonated with me as a 7-year-old. I loved discovering the references to my faith, imagining the existence of other worlds, and getting more out of the stories with every reread. I remember saving my quarters as an 8-year-old to buy the series in a paperback boxed set. Far from being merely attached to the stories, when I need to replace titles that were falling apart, I held out for the same series with the same cover art (though different publication dates) that I found at tag sales. Partly, this is in protest to the renumbering of the series since 1994, but mostly I can't imagine reading the books in a different size book, with a different font or margin width.

There's nothing like a first reading love. Though my experience is not as dramatically life-impacting as Daniel's, "those first images, the echo of words" were never left behind. What are your "first loves" in reading?

Works cited:
Ruiz Zafon, Carlos. The Shadow of the Wind. Trans. by Lucia Graves. New York: Penguin Press, 2004.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

This is Why I Love My Job

I love my job every day, but yesterday was an especially good day. I had a few reader's advisory questions in a row, so I had the opportunity to talk to patrons about books for almost the last half hour of my shift. It was heaven!

I started thinking later about why it was so great for me. Because I love reading, right? Well, that's the easy answer, and it's partly right but I think it goes beyond that. At its heart, reading is about connection. Connection with characters, the author, and other people who have read the book. Talking about books we've both read -- whether it's a book I loved and you hated, a book we both liked but for different reasons, a book I didn't understand by you did -- creates a common bond between us.

There's also that connection between people and books. Sure, it's fun to recommend books I've read and enjoyed. But my job goes beyond that to recommending books that I know the patron will like, even if I don't enjoy the same books. The other thrilling part of my job is connecting people with the next book they'll love, and while that's more challenging than recommending books I love, it's one of the best jobs in the world.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

How on earth did I learn to read?

I have newfound respect for new readers. I think because my own experience with reading seemed so natural and fluid from an early age, I have wondered why early elementary school kids sometimes had such difficulty. No more.

Why the change? Well, in my children's literature class, we've been learning about easy readers and transitional books. To remind us adults how difficult decoding scratches on a page can be, my teacher gave the class an activity in which we had to learn a different language. First, she taught us a nursery rhyme in German. She gave us motions so we got the gist of the translation. Then she wrote it on the board, and we had to sound it out based on what we remembered of the rhyme. Next, she wrote something entirely different on the board. We could kind of figure out the sounds because of the first nursery rhyme, but we had no idea what it meant (pure phonics). Using pictures, she had us slowly decode each word and, finally, sentences that made sense.

And, boy, was it HARD! I felt like such a dunce, because other people in the class were figuring out some words based on their similarily to English, and I just couldn't. It wasn't until she held up the pictures that I started putting together the words with their meanings.

The exercise was a fantastic reminder of how complicated reading is. You're simultaneously figuring out the sounds, the words, the meanings of the words, and making a cohesive thought once you put it all together. That's an awful lot of work for an elementary school kid! From now on, I'm ready to cheerlead young readers no matter where they are, from just starting out or way ahead of their grade level.

Furthermore, because I really couldn't decipher some of the words without the pictures she held up, I will never look at an easy reader in the same way again. The exercise emphasized the necessity of having the illustrations closely matching the text so that beginning readers can be helped along in understanding words they've never met before. Remembering this experience will definitely affect the books I recommend to young readers and their parents as well as how I approach collection development in the future.