I was fortunate to be surrounded by books growing up. I remember being read to and wanting to be able to read on my own. I think I was in kindergarten when I got a box set of Paddington Bear chapter books. I was no prodigy and a long way from being able to read them independently. But I really wanted to. I regularly took one down, opened it to the first page, and tried to see if I was “ready.” Eventually, I was . . . and it was on.
I don’t remember what happened in those books very well. But I do believe they contributed to my lingering fondness of marmalade and all things British. They may have even influenced my future reading habits. There were more talking animals and books set in England in my future.
I didn’t fully appreciate the idea of genre as a young reader. My understanding was limited to the little stickers on the spines of library books. I knew the unicorn or Sherlock meant I would probably like it. When all else failed, I let the stickers guide my choice.
This method was especially helpful at one of the libraries I frequented on Saturday mornings. Their collection was older and the selection for adolescents and young adults was limited. The sticker drew me to Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. They were okay, but not quite what I wanted. The story lines got too predictable. I grew out of them about the same time I grew out of Scooby Doo. I quickly moved on to Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie.
The sticker also drew me to my first book by Joan Aiken, Night Fall. It was an appropriately mysterious title. I remember reading that book vividly. Between the time the bus dropped me off and the time my mom got home, when I should have been doing homework, I usually read. It was one of these days after school that I was instantly hooked. In my experience reading, it was like nothing I was used to. The characters came alive to me, and I didn’t know what to expect on the next page.
When I returned the book on my next visit, I looked under Aiken again and thankfully found a decent selection. Many had blue unicorn stickers too. Next came The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. Eventually, I read everything they had. I found even more in the adult section. The magical realism of many of her stories struck me the most and stuck with me.
I believe that Aiken’s books, above all, shaped me as a reader. Every new bookstore I go in, I still look under the As. I have less luck as time goes by. However, in that time, I have discovered other authors that have inspired the same feelings: Kurt Vonnegut, Salman Rushdie, Neil Gaiman, Haruki Murakami.
My goal is to continue to discover. Hopefully, there are other readers out there on their own journeys who want to follow along.