Why I’m Doing It

Why am I doing it? Why did I agree to participate in a challenge that requires me to read 50 books and see 50 films in one year?  Well, I didn’t do it for the films. Seeing 50 films is what I’m pretty sure I already do every year.

No, I did it for the love of reading. Because I adore being transported and carried away by a good read.  Only, in my adulthood, I haven’t been reading nearly as much as I once did, from childhood, all the way through to my college years. Life’s demands and responsibilities have come between me and my passion for reading. And, if I’m going to be honest, I must confess that the number of TV shows I watch each week, hasn’t helped either.

So, basically, for the last 30 years, reading has been at the bottom of my To-Do list. Which, when I think of all my wonderful memories associated with reading, I have to wonder, how could this be?  What made me sacrifice my love for the written word? Was it my work? The advent of the ability to record programs? Did VHS kill reading? Or was it simply the need and desire to raise and spend time with my two kids? Probably all of the above.

My memories of reading start with my childhood in Queens. Every Saturday morning, my mother would drive me to the local library and drop me off at its door, returning a few hours later to pick me up.  It was a routine I grew to love. The children’s section was located on the lower level and I remember the circular staircase that led to it. I’d join the other kids there for story time with the librarian. After which, I’d pick out the books I wanted to borrow for the week. Some of my favorite books included, the Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak, and both the Pippi Longstocking and The Children of Noisy Village series, by Astrid Lindgren. Ah, bliss.

In sixth grade, I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, and I remember curling up in a comfy chair, reading nonstop until I finished the book. So engrossed was I in this beautiful novel, I imagined myself to be Francie Nolan, the protagonist, and cried profusely when she lost someone very dear to her.

In seventh grade English, I was assigned to read A Lantern in Her Hand, by Bess Streeter Aldrich. I absolutely loved this story about a young woman who marries and heads west during the days of pioneer life. She had so many dreams, one by one they whittled away, because being a pioneer wife and mother got in the way. She had many children and eventually, each of them grew up and ended up fulfilling their mother’s dreams, in their own way. I remember loving this book so much, I read it aloud to my mother, who didn’t have time for books at all. Those were special moments.

In ninth grade, I made a friend who changed my life, when she introduced me to an array of classic works. Like the Bronte sisters’ Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, Albert Camus’ The Stranger, Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, along with books by Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker, O. Henry and the like. This opened new worlds for me and I’ll be forever grateful to my friend.

When I was 15, I spent nearly a year attending school in Caracas, Venezuela. I craved books written in English. The private school I was attending had a small shelf in the library devoted to such books. One of them was Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. I had never read this book before and became completely immersed in the story.

Around this time, I saw a book review in an issue of Time magazine that caught my eye. I wrote to my oldest brother, Michael, who was back in the states, and asked him to send me a copy of the book. Well, he sent it along with another book, that I hadn’t requested. He included a note.

“If you’re determined to read the book you ordered, then please, also read this one. It’s better for you.”

The book I asked for was Love Story, a real tearjerker by Erich Segal. Tucked underneath was The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien.  I loved them both, as I did other books my brother sent me, such as The Godfather by Mario Puzo and Catch-22, by Joseph Heller.

In college, I was deep into mysteries: Mary Higgins Clark, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross McDonald, and so on.

When I first married, I realized I had never read The Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. There were nine in the series and, in a few weeks, I devoured them all. Such wonderful, adventurous stories!

When I think back on how so many good books have touched my life, this much I know: That it is for these glorious and meaningful memories that I do it now.

So, tell me, what are your favorite memories about reading?

Please check out my new Fifty Fifty page. And hey, it’s not too late to sign up for the Fifty Fifty challenge. If I can do it, anyone can!

44 thoughts on “Why I’m Doing It

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  3. It is frustrating how life manages to get in the way of a good book. I seem to go through spells where I’ll devour every written word in sight. But then inexplicably, almost as if I’ve overdosed on all the reading I’ve done, I’ll go cold turkey and won’t even turn a single page for a month.

    • I can’t tell you how often that’s happened to me. Why, you just told the story of my life. Which is why I have every intention of reading 50 books this year!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Monica, I loved reading so much that when my mom wanted to punish me, she took away my books! This usually resulted in my reading under the sheets with a flashlight. In junior high, every year I would win the library’s prize for being the student who had read the most books in the school year. Books provided an escape; an opportunity to be someone else, travel to exotic countries, be a heroine. I loved the Laura Ingalls books and the Anne of Green Gables. I read the Encyclopedia Brown books because I wanted to challenge myself to discover who did what.By college, I had read most of the classics and I was captivated by the likes of Madame Bovary, Pere Goriot and La Metamorfosis de Franz Kafka. Some I read in Spanish, just to keep my skills sharp, others in French, like Le Petiit Prince. Now, like you, reading has taken a back seat. I dream of the day when I will once again have the time that is required to engross myself in a story. 🙂

  5. ~~~~~~Ahhhhhhhhhhh, Monica.
    I love that your mama dropped you off at the Library… Beautiful. I can smell it:::the pages, the paper, the ink.

    Quite seriously, Reading & Words have transformed my life….

    …Beginning w/ Jonathan Livingston Seagall.

    I remember saying: “This is not about a seagall. IT’s About ME!””””

    My first exposure to Metaphor!!!

    Great Post. Xxx Kiss from MN.

    • I had so much freedom on those Saturdays when I was dropped off at the library. I felt it was like a second home and this library had an amazing grand circular staircase that led to the floor below where the children’s section could be found. I just adored story time.

      Wow, Jonathan Livingston Seagall is a real throwback to another era!

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  7. What a great read, Monica! I remember heading to the library weekly when I was very young and checking out a whole stack of books to read. I continued to be a “reader” all through school and, when my son came along, I read whole stacks of books to him every night. Yes, there have been times in life when other obligations intervened, but on the whole, I still consider myself a “reader.” Shoot, I’ll read cereal boxes and dictionaries if there’s nothing else around, haha!

    • When I was learning to read, I remember sitting in the back seat of the car, while my mother ran errands, and I’d be reading every billboard, every sign and I felt like Eliza Doolittle when she suddenly realizes she can correctly say, “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.”

  8. I used to read “The Little Prairie” books and “Nancy Drew.” I’m into Shirley Jackson and James Thurber now. I remember reading E.B. White’s, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” in high school, which made me love reading short stories. Since that’s what I’m writing now, it’s what I read. I wish I had the time to read an entire novel.

    • I LOVED the Secret Life of Walter Mitty! Did you ever see the film with Danny Kaye? Very amusing. Another fave is Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” That one I had to read in school and it always stuck with me, along with another short story, whose author I don’t recall, titled, “The Monkey’s Paw.” Plus, any short story by the woman who made famous this line: “Men seldom makes passes at girls who wear glasses.” Dorothy Parker, of course.

      • I don’t think the movie is sold anymore. I tried to buy it online but couldn’t locate it or it was VERY expensive. I know The Monkey’s Paw. It’s by W. W. Jacobs. I read that for the first time last year. Funny but I just came across Dorothy Parker’s photo on the web today to paint her picture.

  9. Between reading and music I could fill my days – I love hearing new music, and those seemingly organic linkages that sometimes lead one form book to book – a friend’s recommendation here, a respected review there, until you find yourself reading something that actually makes your life richer forever.

    Work and being a Dad mean novels are a bit of a commitment these days and I want to be sure before getting hitched, so I don’t as much….10 books a year for me is a good year..

    Relatively recent (to me) game changers include Stienbeck (Grapes of Wrath), Ian McEwan (Atonement), Sebastian Faulks (Birdsong) and I know it’s politically touchy in some circles, but Ayn Rand (The Fountainhead)

    • Ian, I don’t even think I read 10 books in 2011. So this is going to be a major milestone year, assuming I succeed, of course. And, if you’re reading books to your lovely daughter, well, that counts. Alas, my kids are grown so my reading to them ended with the last Harry Potter book.

      Btw, my friend who introduced me to the classics in high school, was a major Ayn Rand fan. The Fountainhead was her bible, so I have great respect for anyone who truly appreciates that book. Did you see the film with Gary Cooper? Quite compelling.

    • Nancy, I’m so excited that you’re joining me in this challenge. I can’t wait to hear about your successes–and books you’re reading. Indeed, Happy Reading, my artistic friend!

  10. So many classics I have yet to read. Some day. I’ve been taking classes so required reading is mostly what I do – although some of those books are very good.

  11. Reading for me is like breathing. It’s up there with my music obsession. I do agree with your comment that electronic gadgets (games, vhs, dvds, tivo, dvrs) can make a person’s mind lazy. It is easier to ‘watch or play’ than read. Of course, the reader in me never quite understands this, but I don’t judge or nudge. If asked by someone who is flirting with reading what’s a good book to read, I don’t dive in with lists and lists. I might ask a couple of questions to get a feel for what tickles their fancy before answering.. if I can. Book selection is such a personal choice and I always hesitate recommending. Also my reading habits are all over the place. Currently I am into supernatural and scifantasy, but in between I’ve read two historical fiction type of novels. Books do influence a person’s life and can linger in the reader’s heart long after the book has been read. I read Lonesome Dove a million years ago, and to this day I still remember the characters. It wasn’t a typical book for me, but I loved it. Enjoy your year of reading..

    • Thank you, Brenda. Now that I’m reading, I feel like a kid in the candy store, and even though I already have so many books that I’ve accumulated though have yet to read, I’m using this challenge as an excuse to buy more! I must be keeping the publishers very happy. 😉

  12. Hi Monica. I have always loved libraries and went to our local one every week with my dad. I just loved wandering the stacks and picking books at random to read. In college I worked at the school library and flirted with the idea of being a librarian (I still do). I haven’t officially signed up for the challenge because I’m trying to think of some themes to follow (e.g., X number of craft books, X number by/about a certain author). I’m having trouble coming up with film themes, though. Soon you’ll see my own list (but I just can’t write a blurb about everything. Kudos to you.)

    • I flirted with the idea of being a librarian, too! In fact, in high school I volunteered at the school library. Plus, back then I rode my bike a lot, but it only knew two paths: the one to the school, and the one to the local library, where I spent many an hour pining after books. 😉

  13. I’ve always loved books. When I was a kid, I devoured them. Every single one was my favorite when I was reading it. I can’t remember how many times I heard, “Get your nose out of that book and go outside!” I still read at least a book a week from literary to genre and popular fiction to short stories. There’s nothing like losing myself in a story.

    • I can so picture you as a child with your nose in a slew of books. No wonder you like gardening so much! Looks like you finally got that nose out into the garden–at least once in a while–for I’ve seen the photos on your blog of your beautiful flowers. Happy Reading, my friend. Happy Gardening, too!

  14. That’s just my kind of challenge Monica. I am taking the Goodreads 80 books in 1 year personal challenge myself but never thought of doing a 50/50 with films thrown into the mix. What a fantastic idea, I might make it 80/80 🙂
    I read, read and then read some more as you know. My kids are very small but I make time after they are in bed or when I’m parked in the pick- up line at school, at ballet or just about anywhere I go. My most memorable books from childhood are Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Little Women, all the Austen novels, The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Anything by Dickens my favorite being David Copperfield. The list is endless as are the authors I’ve read, Enid Blyton was my favorite children’s author, and I still read her books with the same love and reverence. Oh I could go on, but I won’t 🙂

    • You and I have the same initials, MM. So that’s what I’m going to call you.

      MM, I’ve always been impressed how quickly you read and then write about the books, giving very thoughtful, informative reviews. You mention so many that I like, no wonder we have another common interest: Colin Firth! 😉

  15. Monica, you and I have the opposite problem. I can (and do) easily read 50 books a year, but never thought I could watch fifty films, so that is why I signed up for the 50/50 challenged. Now that I’m cognizant of my efforts, I realize it’s not that difficult at all, since it really only requires one book and one film per week. My foray into books started when I was in about 2nd grade. Our teacher started a contest to see who could read the most books. Always being a competitve sort, I went directly to the public library after school and checked out a stack of books, but only for the purpose of winning the contest. I easily won the contest, but the prize I got, which I don’t even remember now, pales in comparison to the true gift – a lifelong passion for reading. Not a bad prize for a little contest.

    • I think you are going to be able to solve your problem a lot faster than I will solve mine. Your teacher was very smart to create the reading contest. How nice that it put you on the path to reading and to creating the wonderful business you have now, that caters to our very passion–Adventures By the Book! I so enjoy your author events!

  16. Great idea! I’m ashamed to admit that there are sooo many classics I’ve yet to read… or even see the movie adaptation of. You’ve inspired me!

    • Read some of these classics. You’ll be so glad you did. After all, they’re classic for a reason. And many are available for free on Kindle, etc. 😉

      But you, Heather, have just released a book of your own, “Mothers,Daughters and Other Mysteries,” and I’m very excited to read it, because I just LOVE your humor. And I really enjoy mysteries. I’m making it one of my Fifty!

  17. It seems I’ve done everything in reverse: I knew from the moment I could buy pens by the cartload on my own at the local supermarket that I was a WRITER, but I was never a reader. Then.

    Sure, I dabbled in Hardy Boys mysteries, and I read an occasional young adult book — before that was even a genre, really. But once I got into high school, I discovered a passion for the classics. I loved Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky and Jane Austen. I credit an amazing quartet of high school AP English teachers with providing the inspiration to getting this writer — reading!

    I am envious of your challenge, Monica — not enough to do it myself (my kids are still pretty young and I protect my time with them fiercely!). But I can totally see myself coming to you in a few years, asking for your recommendations…


    • I think it’s safe to say, all writers (and bloggers) are readers. We love the written word, and how we get to it is our own personal journey. Thank you, so much, Mik, for telling me your story. I’m so with you on Shakespeare and Austen. I loved Nancy Drew. I never took AP English, but I had some wonderful English–and Creative Writing–teachers, too, and yes, at least three of them inspired me. Happy Reading!

    • No, I haven’t read them yet. But I’ll be sure to check them out! One of my favorite mystery writers is Hilda Lawrence, though, unfortunately, her books are now out of print. I still have my paperbacks, which I read in my twenties. As you can imagine, these books are very yellow and the pages are rather brittle. But she was a wonderful mystery writer, who mostly wrote in a bygone era.

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