Books matter to me because when I was a little kid I spent a lot of time in the back seat of my parents’ half-broke-down cars speeding around the winding, mountainous roads of West Virginia as my mom and dad hustled drugs in the HUD-funded projects, trailer parks and the clapboard houses that dotted the depressed streets and kudzu covered hollows of our bleak area of Appalachia. I hated these trips where the blaring sounds of AC/DC and the Eagles mixed with the carcinogenic air filled with cigarette and pot smoke.
Despite my dislike of these trips there was one positive that came out of them. It was during these lonely times that my love of learning and reading took root.
My grandmother gave me a flashlight and I would pour over my homework and my stacks of library books: The Bobbsey Twin series, Where the Red Ferns Grow, The Hobbit, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Where the Sidewalk Ends. These books showed me that there was so much magic beyond my sad, little world in the back seat of that car.
Throughout school my grades reflected the hours spent studying and reading and that eventually lead to a full scholarship to West Virginia University. Without this scholarship, my best case scenario would have included years of student loan debt.
I attribute much of my drive to those books I read in the back seat of cars. Those books saved me. They taught me to dream and assured me that there was much more to the world than what I was witnessing.
I have read to my daughter since she was in the womb. When she was an infant, I would sit beside her crib and read to her - often just whatever I was reading. My husband once wondered if the dark subject matters that I prefer were seeping into her brain. As she got older, I switched over to more lighthearted fair; an assortment of Dr. Suess titles, Goodnight Moon, Shel Silverstein poems. When she started reading on her own, it was like watching a miracle unfold. I felt like she was receiving the world.
Celebrate reading on March 2 and take it from me, books matter.
For ideas on how to incorporate a love of reading into your family and for details on Read Across America Day, visit http://www.readacrossamerica.org.