Monday, April 12, 2010

Who Was Your Biggest Influence?

I'm a firm believer that readers are made, and not born that way. I think that while everyone has the capacity to become a reader, those who get a appropriately timed nudge in that direction generally grow up to read more as adults. It's like Nature v. Nurture, but with books. (Could this be the newest literary mash-up?)

For me, there are two different people who I credit as being my reader influences. One that I have always been aware of and one that only recently was brought to my attention by someone else.

Freshman year of high school, I had this English teacher. We'll call her Mrs. Hoffman, because I think that was her name or a close variation of it. Sad that she's one of my greatest influences and I can't remember her name. I guess this is why she is my obvious influence, because she is remembered for what she did and not who she was.

Anyway, Mrs. Hoffman was unlike any English teacher I ever had. She's still remembered as my favorite teacher of all time. She tried to take what was allowed through the curriculum and presented it as examples of the many different types of books we could read. With her, it wasn't just stuffy classics. And when it was, she made sure we realized that they were just older than the books written today. She used them as examples of genre, instead of trying to convince us that they were the only books that mattered. Sure, she forced met to read Beowolf (which I hated) but she also had us read Dante's Inferno (epic poetry), Romeo & Juliet (play), And Then There Were None (mystery), and many more.

She made it clear that the "classics" weren't a genre, but a classification of books in many genres. While we may dislike a certain book, that doesn't mean we dislike classics, it means we may not love that particular genre. She taught that not every person is going to love every book. We weren't expected to enjoy everything. We were allowed to state why we thought a book was horrible and she told us our opinions were valid. Her opinion was that no one loves all the classics. You can't. They're too varied. If someone claims that they love the classics, that they are the only books that a worthy of reading, then they are pretentious. And probably lying. That was a concept that effected my 14 year old self beyond anything else throughout my schooling.

My other major (albeit stealthy) influence was my grandmother. She never forced me to read. She never even suggested I read. She just sat there with her own book by her side, every waking minute. She told others to leave me alone because I was reading. She made it known that my reading was important without ever saying anything directly. She set the example, I followed and she defended it against those who didn't value it. And I never noticed.

Last month, I mentioned to my mother that I was interviewing a particular author that one of her coworkers adores. I told her to ask said coworker if she had any questions she's like me to include in the interview. My mother took this as an excuse to mass email everyone she's ever met. She was bragging. It was cute.

After receiving her email, one of my much older cousins emailed me. She said how proud my grandmother would have been of me, since she was such a book lover herself. This floored me. I had forgotten the book always by my grandmother's side. I had forgotten lying on her couch for hours every day after school reading my book while she sent my brother into another room so I could concentrate. I had forgotten because she didn't make a big deal out of it. I learned through example.

I wish I could go back and tell these two woman how much there influence shaped my life for the better. Without them, I would probably think reading is what you do in the bathroom since there is no television in there. Just like the rest of my family thinks.

Who were your biggest reading influences? What did they do that help you to discover a love of reading?

Stephanie's response @ Curling Up by the Fire


  1. Great post! I had 3 women influence my reading life - my mother, my elementary school librarian and my 11th grade English teacher. I wish I knew how to get hold of my librarian and English teacher to thank them.

  2. Doris Day! LOVE the picture!

    What an awesome question. I think I need to ponder this one.

  3. This is a wonderful post! I really don't remember any one person in particuluar being an influene for me though. All I remember is we had books in our house when I was growing up but my parents only read occasionally. I on the other hand, first looked at pictures in our encyclopedias and children's story books. Then I learned to read in school and would often go read for hours on end. Whether it was because I loved reading or was using it as an escape from my then narly brothers I don't know. Then in high school we were offered 6 week classes in the American Short Story, American Folklore, English Literature, the Bible as Literature, etc. and I took all that I was allowed to. When I started to college I was torn between nursing or an English major, and ultimately chose English...then life happened and I never finished my degree but have kept my lifelong love of reading. Someone was bound to have influenced me but I don't know who it was!

  4. Great post! Honestly I have never been a big reader until the past yr or so. I wasn't raised in a house of readers and other than a few phases (my dinosaur & Call of the Wild phases) I didn't read much as a kid.
    My biggest influence is a book - or I should say series - not a person. It was the Twilight series. My sister in law left me the books and they sat for several months before I picked them up. While I had issues w/the series and it's not one of my favorites - I LOVED escaping into another world for 4 whole days and it sparked my desire to find other books that could take me to new worlds. Since reading Twilight I have gone from reading 6-12 bks per year to well over 100 per yr!

  5. Like Karen, I wasn't raised in a house of readers and my influence is a book as well, on the story of Hatshepsut. I loved it so much I could not stop to read archeology books. But I have always been attracted to books and comics. I think It is in my DNA. :P

  6. This is a lovely post :)

    My Dad is my biggest influence. I adore and admire the colossal variety of books he's read. Not just classics, but books about subjects that are intimidating by themselves! He's never not once refused to take me to the library. Mum, though directly not an 'influence' is someone without whom I wouldn't read this much.

    Growing up in a household like that, it would be surprising only if I didn't read books :)

  7. My two year old sees me reading and brings a book over to 'read' next to me. It's always a large book like what I have instead of a board book, and he grins up at me like we're in some special club.
    My mother worked as hard as possible and had me reading so young, that she brought me Anne of Green Gables in Kindergarten. A bit of a stretch for a 6 year old, but I read it anyways and then read it almost every year of my young life after that. She also encouraged the classics if even inadvertantly by having them on the shelf. If I asked for a recommendation, she always had one.
    My dad was the scifi/fantasy guy and because of him I found Edgar Rice Burroughs, and even people like Louis L'amour. Between the two they encouraged individuality in my enjoyment of literature, and as a result one of my favorite books is New Arabian Nights by Robert Louis Stevenson - a book that most people would never pick even in their top 100. :)

  8. This was such an interesting post, that I wrote one of my own. Here is my link:

    Thanks for sharing such an amazing post with us! I know in my household, growing up the way I did, it's no surprise that all of us are avid readers.

  9. My mother says that my dad read to me from the time I was born. Both my parents both enjoy reading and it wasn't ever a question of whether my sister and I would or not. We both loved the library and as children that were grounded a lot luckily loved to read.

    I also had an English teacher named Mrs Hoffman that reignited my love of reading while I was in high school. She took the time to make us understand why the books we were forced to read were important. She also would pick out books for me to borrow that I never would have come across on my own.

    Great post!!

    Tara SG --

  10. Thank you so much for this post; it was touching to read about your grandmother's influence on you. I have to say that I'm very thankful that my parents always read themselves and encouraged me to read too!

  11. This is a question that doesn't need much thinking but also needs a lot of pondering! Well my mother for certain has influenced me to a great extent. For the other awesome women...I have so many names!!

  12. my mom was always reading too and that rubbed off onto me to. My grandma always books around to read. I think I got more intelluctial on books in high school.

  13. like most things, I think it is a combo of nature/nurture. Neither of my parents read for fun but they did buy me books. My mother always read books to me when I was little---- and she always took me to the library-- even though it must have been dull for her. I'm sure she just wanted me to do well in school and certainly never expected me to be a bookworm.

    I loved all my reading/lit teachers--- never had a dud.

    Love what your teacher said about the classics-- so true-- I will use it the next time I encounter a literary snob or book bully.


  14. My father receives the credit for being my greatest influence. When I was very young he would read to us every night - books like Peter Pan, Wind in the Willows, The Water babies .
    He loved history and later passed that love on as well. Library visits were weekly outings and have always been special places for me.
    My mother would say "You're just like your father, always got your nose in a book".

    Still have!

  15. How wonderful that you had two awesome women to influence you becoming a reader! For me, it was my mom who was my biggest reading influence. She was so busy with me and my 8 sisters but still took a few minutes out of each day (or more if she could) to sit and read a book. She hauled us all to the library so we could look at books or read them or just sit quietly. She definitely instilled a love of reading into me without pushing it down my throat.

  16. My mom was my biggest reading inspiration. She used to knock out a book every two days. So we always went to the library and I learned her 'speed reading' technique. She did encourage my book buying and borrowing throughout my life, and I used to win all the summer reading competitions at my local library for most books read, etc. She still supports me as I go on with my book blogging as well.

  17. What a great post! My biggest influence was my mom. She's a teacher and read to me every night for as long as I could remember. She taught me how to read before preschool and always encouraged me. She also always had a book by her and was always reading. I still remember when we would go to the library and I would get out 15 or 20 books every two weeks and she would get out 5 or 6 also, especially in the summer. We still share our love of reading!