• johannalyon

The History of a Reader

Books are a uniquely portable magic. - Stephen King

When I was in elementary school, I loved to go to the library in my small hometown. Conveniently located behind The Westside Lounge, I would happily wait on Annie and/or Bruce while they had “one” drink. Ha. After school, I would browse the stacks before it was time to walk to dance class a couple blocks away. With or without friends, I just loved being there. The nostalgia of remembering my goal to read the entire “Sweet Valley High” series is powerful! It’s like I’m right back in 1993 deciding that “Goosebumps” is too juvenile for a mature reader like myself, age 9, and the only obvious choice is the author’s scarier series, “Fear Street.” I was terrified after the first chapter. Before “Fear Street,” though, I was borrowing the “American Girl” series in quick succession to be certain I read every single girl’s story. I’m not talking about the American Girl spectacle of our current era, but the predecessors of the dolls, the original characters in illustrated chapter books! Molly was my favorite. Her story was set during WWII and I am certain I can attribute my lifelong love of historical fiction, especially WWII historical fiction, to this series. (Have you all read “The Nightingale?” Do it. As soon as you possibly can! Also, read “All the Light We Cannot See.”)

Magical Place

Side note: I can give you tons of WWII reading recommendations, both fiction and non-fiction. But to keep this post fairly concise, I am drastically pairing down. However, do yourself a favor and read the non-fictional account of Louis Zamperini, “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.” Although we see it often, this book, in particular, is a case of the book being WAY better than the movie. It’s a must-read.

Her outfit is on point, 25 years later!

Am I the only one who sees Freddie Mercury when I look at Jessica's older man?

Back to 1993.. Behold! Waldenbooks! Besides school book orders, which were always seen as a necessary expense in my house (thanks, Annie!), I didn’t realize you could go to stores SOLELY dedicated to books. It was life-changing! I still remember the book I bought on that first trip. Unfortunately, the title escapes me, but it was a YA doozy. The first book in a series, it was about twins who were separated at birth and living separate lives (one poor, one a movie star) before they are reunited and eventually become close sisters and celebrities together. (Totally plausible!) I read the entire chapter book in two days, which was a record for me at the time. (Isn’t it funny that we needed to distinguish between non-chapter books and chapter books at that age? I really felt so impressive reading my chapter books.) Anyway- you can say that Waldenbooks made an impression on me. I soon loved Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Half Price Books. Book stores (especially small business book stores!) remain my happy place, to this day. Also, this paragraph makes me want to watch “You’ve Got Mail.”

Moving on - Besides buying out Scholastic via monthly school book orders, I acquired many a book via my Gbarb’s Goodwill scouring skills. Her best finds were “The Babysitters Club” books and I am fairly certain that if shown each cover in the series, I would automatically recite the basic plot. (Hit me up if you want to talk BSC - I am a Stacey. I have Kristy tendencies, but I’m a Stacey. In fact, to ensure that I wasn’t compromising the integrity of my history for you, dear reader, I took a very scientific internet quiz to verify my hypothesis. The results read: “You are a Stacey. Even if you weren't raised in New York City, you sure act like you were.” I’m a Stacey.) Though I was finished reading BSC in the early 90’s, my love of strong female characters has remained and is certainly due, in part, to this series. Which means I love Sue Grafton’s “Alphabet Series,” “The Good House” by Ann Leary, “Where’d you Go, Bernadette” by Maria Semple, “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett, and “Leaving Time” by Jodi Picoult. I could go on and on, but for the sake of somewhat streamlining, we’ll leave it at that for now.

Of all the books I love, I own two very special ones. A signed copy of “A Wrinkle in Time,” given to me by my Grandma Genie and Grandpa Dudley and Bruce’s copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. He gave me his book when I was still in high school and wrote me a note inside saying that he hoped the story was as meaningful to me as it was to him. It was.

Friends, in conclusion, I’d love to know your all-time favorites! And how did they become your favorites? What is your reading history? And tell me.. What are you reading right now?

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