Learning to Read

A piece I wrote in 1992:

One of my earliest memories, maybe the earliest, is of learning to read. I learned to read all over the house, I’m sure, even out in the world, but the memory takes place in my father’s office, the small middle room upstairs. That room is Jasmine’s bedroom now. When it was Rosy’s room, my parents put up wallpaper with big pink flowers on it, and painted the trim rose pink and olive green. But when it was my father’s office the room, already small, was dark and warm and crowded with every stick of furniture my father could cram in. Bookshelves sat on top of desk on top of bookshelves on top of file cabinets, but there was no clutter: everything was logical, at his fingertips.

It is hard now to imagine how he got it all in—how could he have moved his huge heavy roll-top desk down the narrow hall that is part of the oddly shaped room? But he had managed, and had covered the empty walls with all kinds of pictures: old postcards from foreign-seeming places, his cartoons, Valentines from my mother, family photographs—his family and ours—his children’s drawings. This became the standard style for his workspaces—no matter how large the room, it was packed with furniture, books, and pictures—but this is the first I remember.

In the memory I am kneeling on the ground in front of a small desk. The pool of light from the green-glass lampshaded light on my father’s desk reaches me, as do his presence and his encouragement. I am reading Little Bear stories and Curious George’s Alphabet, thinking it’s funny when Curious George learns how to write and gets ten dozen doughnuts instead of one dozen, as the Man with the Yellow Hat said he should. At some point I graduated to the Little House books, and visions of Christmas in the Big Woods and summer on the prairie began to fill my head. But by then the location had changed: I had moved out of the protective womb of warm green light into the landscapes of my reading.

How did you learn to read? Who taught you? What do you remember about it? Tell us in the comments section below. Thank you for sharing your stories!

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

katherine sandoz October 16, 2010 at 08:03

Not sure when I first started to read or where, but I do remember spending eight or ten hour days reading almost anything – and stacks of it – with you at my side. Books were the best parents our parents ever subcontracted.

Chris Canfield October 16, 2010 at 09:32

I love Katherine’s “books were the best parents our parents ever subcontracted.” Don’t get me wrong, I loved the six Duggan kids who raised me weekends when my parents golfed, and nights when they did the ’70s’ cocktail, dinner and general party circuit. Still, as I’ve said in other posts, I was raised more by the idiot box than books. Life’s been grand and all, but it’s hard not to regret that it took about fifteen years for me to capitalize on that moment when the letters I’d been so hoping would become words if I stared at them enough DID become words. Didn’t I read somewhere that those 15 years I was zoning out were somehow formative? Maybe when I was 41 and my beloved dog BJ died, my mother’s sweetest comment ever, “You and BJ grew up together,” would have been a different sweetest comment ever had I read a third as much as my children (who’ve read 30 times more than I). Off to prepare breakfast for my daughters who will be “down in a few pages.”

Erin Woods October 18, 2010 at 18:20

A friend of mine has a similar story and ideology about learning to sing. Hope you have time to check it out.


juno October 20, 2010 at 18:34

Thank you, Erin. I like what Tammy has to say very much.

W. November 26, 2010 at 12:17

I remember when I was 2 or 3, I really wanted to learn to read. I asked my babysitter
to teach me. I thought it was something you could learn in a day and be done with. I sat on the table and my babysitter wrote down “dog” “cat” “and” “the”, and other easy words. I was proud of the few words I knew. When I was four I could read, but not well. In kindergarten I finally began to grasp it for real, and I sometimes wonder if my babysitter helped me that day. If, maybe, those few words jumped out at me forever, and made learning to read easier.

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