young hester CR Francine Daveta Photography

"Books were never embarrassed by my questions, never condescending or superior as they informed me of the workings of the world."

Photo credit Francine Daveta Photography

I’ll admit, my attraction to books was purely physical at first. As a toddler, I couldn’t keep my hands off them. I loved riffling through their pages, inhaling the scent of aging paper. My father had to wrap his bookshelves with chicken wire to keep me from absconding with his paperbacks. Eventually, I realized I wanted more from books than just something to chew on.

I taught myself to read at the age of four, and in doing so, began the kind of relationship we all dream of, one that has consistently conquered loneliness and boredom, one that challenges me to grow and learn, one that incorporates plenty of fantasy and role play.

I discovered early on that books would tell me things the adults in my life wouldn’t, that I could depend on them for unflinching honesty. At six, I found a copy of Where Did I Come From, an illustrated book about sex and birth, at a local library. It clarified many things in my life, including the lyrics of certain pop songs my mother didn’t want me singing along to. Later that year, I read a Judy Blume novel that dispensed with the Santa myth, and it became clear: reading was my path to adulthood, the only instruction guide I’d ever get.

In a time before internet, books held all the answers. They were never embarrassed by my questions, never condescending or superior as they informed me of the workings of the world. When Nancy Drew, my constant companion in third grade, proved too tame, books indulged my changing needs. They allowed me to explore the darker side of human nature. By ten, I was tearing through Lois Duncan, Agatha Christie, and Stephen King. My parents, strong in their anti-censorship stance, never objected to my reading material, although my mother did feel some pangs of guilt after I read The Silence of the Lambs and couldn’t sleep for two weeks.

I’m still enthralled by dark explorations of the human psyche, but my reading nowadays is not constrained by genre. I can read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Tana French, C.S. Lewis or Philip Pullman, Ray Bradbury or Suzanne Collins. I can immerse myself in parenting manuals, biographies, books about animal intelligence or behavioral economics. Sometimes, I am too busy to read, but books are patient. They wait for me to come back, and I do. I always return to them. We’ve been together more than three decades now, and the physical attraction—what first drew me to books—hasn’t died. I still love the sight of black ink against paper. I still can’t wait to turn the page.

Hester Young holds a master’s degree in English with a creative writing concentration from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, and her work has been published in literary magazines such as The Hawai‘i Review. Before turning to writing full-time, she worked as a teacher in Arizona and New Hampshire. Young lives with her husband and two children in New Jersey.

This “Writers on Reading” essay was originally published in “At the Scene” enews February 2017 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.

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