I’m going to tell you something you probably never hear from a writer. Here it comes… are you ready for it?
I didn’t like to read as a kid.
I was jealous of the kid under the sheets with a flashlight reading because they couldn’t sleep until I knew the end. I wanted to be that kid, but I just didn’t like reading.
I think there are several reasons why.
- I wasn’t good at it. At an early age I was put into the Turtle reading group. Not joking — that’s what it was called. (My, how times have changed.) I might’ve been a slow reader, but I knew what the label meant and I resented it. It gave me a certain attitude about reading and probably school in general.
- The items used to teach and test reading were awful, in my opinion. The dreaded SRAs — did anyone else have those over-sized laminated flashcards in the back of the classroom? They were color-coded and in a box like you might have record albums. You had to read a few paragraphs about something terribly boring and then answer dumb questions about the stupid paragraphs. As you might expect by my tone, I did poorly on them and stayed in Turtle-type groups longer than would’ve probably been necessary if I’d only applied myself.
- Lastly, there were limited choices. I stumbled on some Encyclopedia Browns that I liked, but I rarely found anything that grabbed me. Yet… I wanted to be grabbed by books.
In later grades I encountered “required reading.” Oh, how I detested required reading. I remember Steinbeck in particular. Nothing against Steinbeck, but not a great choice to get a kid who’s not excited about reading to be excited about reading. So I wasn’t excited and I didn’t read.
Decades later when my own kids, who also didn’t love reading despite having an author-Mom, had required summer reading, I examined the choices. While I can admit required reading lists had evolved, I cringed at many of the choices. My son’s school did One Book One School, which I love in theory. I bought several copies of the book the administration had chosen and I sat down several times to read it. It was a best-seller and critically acclaimed. I was a dense and challenging read. I didn’t like it. Reading it was not fun. I finally told my son, “I’m tapping out. Good luck with it.”
Regardless of being a poor reader, wanting to boycott SRAs, and not liking the choices, I loved libraries and books and writing. I often had a big book from the library in my backpack. I didn’t read it, but I loved the idea of loving to read it. Weird, huh?
Here’s what I’ve come to understand: I like stories. I consumed them via cassettes, movies, tv, and cartoons.
Things began to turn around for me as a young adult, thanks to a few fantastic thrillers: Connelly, Patterson, Grisham, Child, Brown and the other Brown, Cornwall, Scottoline etc… And for the first time in my life, I began reading for enjoyment. I’m now quite voracious, but I’m also darn picky. I have a 50-Page Rule (It used to be a 25-Page Rule, but I’ve matured). This is the rule: If I’m not totally into a book in the first 50 pages, I don’t finish it. I can’t tell you how many highly recommended books, best sellers, and Oprah’s picks don’t pass my 50-Page Rule. This isn’t because they aren’t good books, as reviews and sales numbers attest that they are. (This includes the aforementioned One Book One School). It’s because I don’t like them. It’s subjective. It can be the book itself, but it could also be my mood, what’s in the current zeitgeist, what’s on my mind, and even how tired I am.
I think subjectivity is especially applicable in children’s books. What appeals to parents, teachers and librarians may not appeal to readers.
All of these byproducts of my reluctant readership — pickiness, my 50-Page Rule, and subjectivity — have influenced my personal writing style, which has evolved over the course of my career. To me, writing is a muscle. I work out to become a faster runner, swimmer, and biker. The more I train, the stronger I get (I’m still painfully slow, btw). Writing is the same way, and I like to believe I continue to improve. My most recent books, Saltwater Secrets, The Girl Who Ruined Christmas, and My Big Heart-Shaped Fail best demonstrate my desired style. And my style, I think, is particularly appealing to reluctant readers.
I missed out on so much by not reading as a kid and teen, and because of that I want to deliver a product that would have appealed to me, and I hope, may convert a non-reader. If I can do that, I’ll consider myself successful.
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