My Reading Life

On my bedside table is a stack of books, and at the top of the stack is Pat Conroy’s My Reading Life.  It is rich, beautiful, and evocative. Just like a reading life should be.

In a series of essays, Conroy honors authors and librarians and poets and teachers and, most importantly, the books that shaped his life.  Books do that.

The book is the memoir of a reader and it  sparks reflection.   My own reading life began with the musical tones of my mother’s joy-embracing “happily-ever-after” cadence, mingled with those of my father’s sonorous and sardonic “well-what-did-they-expect” wit.

I Could Have Seen That One Coming” might have been the title of every story my father read or told to us: Well of COURSE the wolf rushed ahead to Red’s Granny’s house; and Hansel and Gretel were held hostage by a witch; and Tom Sawyer got to know the school master’s switch, and Wendy ended up tied to the pirates’ mast. What did you expect?

“See? I knew that would happen,” he would say with a mix of pathos and judgment.

When I was six, I was taken to the Dolly Madison Library to get my own library card. I was allowed to choose my own books.   Books came in the mail no matter where we lived and one of my parents read to us almost every night.

School was another story. Reading meant work and workbooks. Or it meant reading aloud in a circle of small wooden chairs where a teacher nodded approvingly as we made the words on the page jump to life. Or it meant working our way through a box of color coded cards with passages and questions.

These days when I read that elementary schools have declined, I want to raise my hand and say, “Wait a minute… they weren’t so great back then. I was there.”

I had great English teachers in high school. We were given choice, time to read, and a place to explore and deepen our thinking about books with others. We were expected to think, discuss, and write intelligently. I made my way through classics, contemporary fiction, plays, and poetry.  I read books I loved and books I didn’t.

Mixed in with all those authors was Pat Conroy.  When I was a senior in high school, I read his teaching memoir, The Water is Wide. I loved it, but I had no idea that I would one day teach.

Now I have spent well over half my life inviting children to develop their own rich reading lives with intention and purpose… I guess I could have seen that one coming.

About Annie Campbell

Annie Campbell is a National Board Certified third grade teacher and loves her work. She especially enjoys teaching children how to be enthusiastic readers, writers, and problem solvers. Every year, she hopes to inspire her students to be committed citizens who know they can make a difference in the world around them. When she is not teaching, Annie enjoys cooking for family and friends; she likes to lose herself in a good book; she loves discovering new ideas, restaurants, perfect picnic places, and movies with her husband, Ben.
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12 Responses to My Reading Life

  1. blkdrama says:

    Thanks for the early morning inspiration Annie. I don’t have that stack by my bed anymore but my iPAd does inc;ude that Pat Conroy book and I will take your advice and get to it. In fact, I’m getting ready to write a poem today for my poenaday challenge and my reading life, what a perfect subject, something positive.
    It’s great to read your new post,
    Bonnie

  2. Cecile Myers says:

    I want to thank you for enriching the lives of 3 of my grandchildren through your love of books and teaching them how reading opens up their universe.

  3. Deb Day says:

    I love reading about others “reading life”. And, yippee! New books for my pile, that’s always a bonus when reading someone’s slice.

  4. Linda Baie says:

    I loved the way you wound your way through the path of your reading life, enjoyed the part about your dad always saying “should have seen that coming”, & that this strong memory string from childhood wrapped the piece up as well.

  5. Ruth says:

    Annie,
    I love your voice and your style of writing. Wish I could sit across the table and share a pot of hot tea together. Thanks for slicing today, Ruth

  6. onesunflower says:

    Whenever I have books that I especially love, I put the date in them that they were read and in turn, I record titles I’m reading in my journal/diary type writing. I’ve always felt that my reading life was like the flags on the trees that a hiker looks for.

  7. Wanda Brown says:

    I have not read Mr. Conroy’s books but you have inspired me to add him to my list. Right now two biographies and one novel are waiting for me to finish them. A teaching resource patiently waits for me to pick it up as well. It is a mix of a stack and the nook:) No matter what the media is…reading is a part of my life and your passion for reading is so strong I hope you continue to share how you feel about it. It gives everyone else permission to read when they might think they should be doing something else.

  8. Tam Hess says:

    Thanks for this author’s name and his books. I now have it on “my list.” I think I was raised under the same type of personalities. I chose the half full side, also. Enjoyed the post.

  9. Tom Hartman says:

    My reading memories from elementary school days are entirely a matter of the stacks of books I would bring home every week from the Bloomsburg Public Library. Surely we read in school too, didn’t we?

  10. Lloyd says:

    Assigned reading can sometimes be a bore for students. But for me, I LOVED it!!! I was assigned a book a week when I was a junior in high school. I read Hemingway, Hawthorne, Salinger, and more (yes, most of the books were classic American novels). If I had never been assigned these books to read, I would never have picked them up. I also like to choose my own books. Recently I have grown fond of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. These books are easy to read, but so funny!!! I enjoy a good laugh.
    I think reading has to come from within. It’s hard to get a student to read if they don’t want to read. But ways to help that are to let them pick something they like.
    There needs to be some leverage on both sides (the teacher and the student) when comes to choosing a book. Maybe on one assignment the student could choose the book and on the next, the teacher. Just getting the student to read should be considered a major accomplishment.

  11. marvene2 says:

    This piece took me back to my life reading experiences. I can remember going to the library in middle school searching for R. L. Stine books. I loved to read about the mysteries. I also remember the assigned reading which wasn’t that bad. I liked how you incorporated reading styles of both parents. It was good to see you reflected back to your earliest childhood reading experiences. Nice writing

  12. Mallory says:

    As a kid I would be sent to stay with my grandparents over the summer. While my little brother had playmates I had no kids my age in the area, so I retreated to the library. I would become lost in the fantasy world of fiction. I couldn’t wait to see what Harry was going to get into next. Who is Boo Radley? I think reading at an early age is good, I still love to read and I don’t mind having to read for school anymore. When I hear of students saying they hate to read I feel sorry for them. To me there is nothing better than settling in with a good book.

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