We usually think of reading as a solitary activity. Reading a book is so very lovely when we can curl up in our cozy armchair or under a blanket, sipping tea – or Dr. Pepper – and fully immerse ourselves. Shutting out the real world. Being transformed by the experience.
Even the author who wrote the book disappears when the story is enthralling and the writing transports us to a whole new world.
But this post is how reading is a social experience, too.
First, let me tell you a story.
One of the things we both had a passion for was a love of books. We read ferociously, taking trips to the library together and purchasing stacks of Scholastic Book Club titles. We talked books constantly and laughed and cried over books for the next seven years. The first picture taken of us in Kindergarten is the two of us sitting together, our heads bent over a book. (I wish I knew what book it was, but alas, the picture keeps this little tidbit a secret).
Every afternoon we were either at my house or her house (although we had to learn how to cross a very busy street), and we spent a great deal of our time together bringing stories alive by dressing up and creating adventures and characters from the worlds of the books we’d read. (Kind of like dramatic fan fiction loooong before the term fan-fiction was coined.)
We especially loved The Little House books and loved to pretend that we were living in the Olden Days. During Friday night sleepovers we talked endlessly, ate brownie dough raw, squealed when our big brothers teased us and made fun of our “characters” when they caught us acting out our stories.
By age 9-10 we began to create our own stories. My first official “novel” was authored by the two of us. My favorite books were historicals, contemporary, and magical realism , but for some reason Starr and I wrote a science fiction book about two girls kidnapped by aliens and taken to the misty world of Venus far across space. It was full of danger and daring as we hijacked the spacecraft to get back to Earth.
Whenever Starr and I were writing stories we used pen names; our middle names of Elizabeth and Anne respectively. Of course. Because we loved our middle names more than our first names, and they sounded so much more grown-up.
I’ll never forget the power that reading Harriet the Spy had on me. I imprinted with that book. I became Harriet. For many wonderful summer afternoons Starr and I armed ourselves with our notebooks and proceeded to spy on her family. She had a marvelous backyard with a big weeping willow tree, a play house, and a big tree-house with a fire station type sliding pole for quick getaways when *enemies* AKA brothers and sisters came lurking. These various locales – so close to the safety of the back door of the house! – were perfect for surreptitious eavesdropping.
High school brought lots of changes and, unfortunately, Starr and I never once had a class together or activity. We drifted apart due to different extracurricular activities and making new friends through our different churches.
College and then marriage took me out of state from where I grew up in the Bay Area. I haven’t seen or corresponded with Starr in over 30 years. I attended my 20th high school reunion hoping to reunite with her there, but she did not attend and nobody seemed to know how to contact her. But I fondly remember the power of our friendship, our closeness, our loyalty—and the power of books that welded us together.
I’ve had close friendships since my childhood days, but none that have been as close or as strong (not counting my husband!) as the one with Starr. Would I be the writer I am today without our live-action fan fiction, story-writing, and endless imagining?
The desire to create my own books and see them published was borne deep within me at a very early age. But I think Starr gave me the courage to begin, to not hold back, to try. I was horribly shy and Starr had much more self-confidence than I did. With Starr, I believed that the magic was real. Because it was so much less scary and overwhelming to dream together, to brainstorm together, and to put those ideas down on paper together. It was a true gift of our friendship.
Thank you, Starr, wherever you are.
Today there are dozens of places online and in the Real World where reading has become more social than ever before. Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Book Blogs, Book Clubs, Literacy nights, or Author book launches are all places readers converge to discuss and enthuse about books.
I personally love the fact that public awareness of books, especially children’s books, is at a higher rate than ever before. Statistics show that children’s books are selling at twice the rate they used to just 10 years ago.
In the comments, please tell us about your childhood book friendships, your adult book friendships and any book clubs you participate in. How have they influenced your reading life? The good, the bad, and the enlightening!
Kimberley Griffiths Little’s best ideas come when taking long hot baths, but instead of a sunken black marble tub with gold faucets and a dragon-shaped spigot, she has New Mexico hand-painted tiles in her adobe home along the Rio Grande.
Her seven Middle-Grade novels with Knopf and Scholastic have won several awards and Forbidden, the first of a Young Adult trilogy recently published with Harpercollins. Find Kimberley on Facebook. and Twitter @KimberleyGLittl. Teacher’s Guides, Mother/Daughter Book Club Guides, and fabulous book trailers “filmed on location” at Kimberley’s website.