I don’t have many. I honestly can’t remember the first book I ever bought with my own money, let alone the first book I ever read. I usually don’t think about my reader origin story (if there, in fact, was one), but talking to my sister on the phone the other night and coercing her into joining GoodReads so that I could easily send book recommendations to her kids set me to wondering about my early days as a young reader.
There are only two books I can (kind of) remember reading before the age of 11. (Remembering individual books after that is a little spotty. I’ve read a lot of books; I really only remember the outstanding ones or the ones I’ve read in the past year or so.) The first one I only remember because my mother told me the story so many times. I don’t actually remember the title. It was, according to the parental unit, a book about a unicorn that lost its mother. She remembers this book because it made me cry every time I read it. Things got so bad, she ended up taking the book away from me.
The other book I remember was Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I read it when I was in fifth grade. I don’t remember a lot of the plot details. What I do remember is that it was the first book that messed me up. Something about that book shaped me as a reader because I still seek out off-kilter, weird books. I adore books that take the universe (or a universe, anyway) as we know it and turn it on its ear. And I delight in pulling books off the shelf at my library and gleefully handing them over to a patron and say, “Read this. It will mess you up.”
Towards the end of my conversation with my sister, after I recommended The Golden Compass and A Wrinkle in Time, my nephew asked for a little more time so that he could finish the last eight pages of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I was proud. I don’t know how much of the books he’s reading now he’ll remember. It don’t really matter, I know now, as long as the love of reading is there. That’s all you need.