According to Julie

Books I read too early

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In my first post I mentioned how historical fiction filled a gap in my life as a reader. As a child I read and expanded my vocabulary very quickly, and the books written for my age group bored me. I reached for books with more complex language, and so I ended up reading books I basically didn’t understand. While I could read every word, I didn’t really get the stories because they were written for adults. Although my “currently reading” list was impressive at age ten, I now have to go back and read it all again. A few examples:
· When I was eight years old, we drove through California, and my parents listened to John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday in the car. I wanted to read this story too, so I did. I remember getting really hung up on the tiny details I did understand (for example, I though Mack was wrong to want names for chapters in books), but it took me half the book to realize that Joseph and Mary was one person.
· When I read My Name is Asher Lev, I was about ten. I had just moved back “home” to Norway, and I was supposed to relate to this book because I was a frustrated stranger in my own country. I never really got the point of the book, and I gave up halfway through. Asher Lev’s story was interesting to me in the way physics is interesting: because I couldn’t understand it. I sensed that I would like it if I did though, and I’m going to try again.
· In December 2004, I took an oral exam in English, and I was asked if I had read anything by Edgar Allen Poe besides the short story on my reading list. I said: “Well, I’ve read The Raven, but I was about eleven, so I didn’t really understand much of it.” This statement was apparantly very impressive – this girl was reading Poe at age eleven! Actually, I can’t remember when I first read this poem, so I was probably about seven to nine years old. I just reread it a few minutes ago.
This childhood habit of reading without understanding has had a strange effect on me. Sometimes I still find myself dutifully making my way through a text even though I only understand half of it. Then I’ll stop and wonder why I bother – is it because I love reading even when it’s pointless? Maybe I just feel that if I understand something right away, it’s boring. If a book never makes me think: “Huh?”, I’ve already outgrown it.

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