For The Love Of Reading

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

The Sangre de Christo Mountains, one of the many views from my childhood home

The Sangre de Christo Mountains, one of the many views from my childhood home

My mother read to me by the light of a kerosene lantern. Most people don’t believe me when I tell them this but it’s true. I grew up in a small hippie town in northern New Mexico, in a home with no running water or electricity. My parents, descendants in a long line of cattle ranchers and cotton farmers chose to abandon the great state of Texas and forge their own path in the turbulent 70’s. We’re nostalgic about it now, my siblings and I; the wood burning stove and the cistern, the chickens and the outhouse. The way light hits the mesa at four o’clock in the afternoon. Running barefoot through the sagebrush. Picking Indian Paintbrush. Monsoons in summer. Blizzards in winter. We once found a cannon ball buried in the front yard–a relic from the old stagecoach road that passed in front of our house–and lost it again within a fortnight. It’s quaint and fascinating but it’s the sort of childhood you remember fondly because it’s in the distant past. Because it makes an interesting conversation starter. Because the hard, hard moments stack up evenly with the magical ones. Most people don’t know how to respond when they learn that I was raised so far off the grid that I actually fell off. So poor that the “dirt floor” analogy actually applied. And that’s OK. Because in life (as in fiction) the best stories are found on the outskirts, those bare, ragged edges of society. Or in my case, down a six-mile dirt road on the other side of the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.

In the absence of a television I discovered C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. L.M. Montgomery and Agatha Christie. I cried myself to sleep after reading WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS. It’s the first book I ever threw against a wall. Later I had a brief but passionate literary love affair with Piers Anthony and his magical Xanth. I believed for years that these authors and their stories were mine, and I felt an irrational rage when I learned that other children loved them as well. I wanted to yank those books out of their hands and stomp away screaming, “Mine, mine, mine!”

I’ve become more generous in the years since I left the mesa. Instead of hoarding beautiful stories to myself, I now try to share them any chance I get. My mother no longer reads to me by the light of a kerosene lantern, though I’d jump at the chance if she offered. And I’m ever on the lookout for a novel that makes me feel the way I did as a child, curled up in a patch of sunlight, lost in the magic of story.

Here’s the truth: I wouldn’t change a moment of it even if I could. Those little bits, the flotsam and jetsam of my life, made me who I am today. My off-kilter childhood made me a relentless reader. It made me a storyteller. It made me a writer.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

6 Responses to For The Love Of Reading

  1. Karen Zacharias (@karenzach) February 19, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    So beautiful, Ariel. The way you find the magic in the hardship and the beautiful woman you have grown to be.

  2. Ann Ellison February 19, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Really enjoyed your blog. I am the oldest of 5 and though we had electricity, there was not TV and video games and we grew up reading and playing games. My mom read to me and then as soon as I was old enough and able to, I read to the younger ones. I do watch some TV but I still prefer having my nose in a good book. I cherish those memories growing up with a family that took time for each other.

  3. Ariel February 19, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Thanks, Karen! The older I get, the more I’m convinced that beauty and hardship usually go hand in hand. And I’m learning to be thankful for it.

  4. Ariel February 19, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    I’m the second oldest of six and though I wish I could say that I read to my younger siblings, I didn’t. My mom just kept reading to us, even when we were teens. Never once did it strike me as odd. It’s just what we did. These days I watch way more television than I should but there’s still nothing that makes me happier than a good book.

  5. Melissa Crytzer Fry February 19, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Oh, Ariel. I LOVE this post. Being a desert dweller in a very remote area (OK – we have electric, but our closest grocery store is 50 miles away), the imagery here really speaks to me. Indian Paintbrush. Monsoons. Sagebrush. All so familiar — all things I love as a transplant to Arizona. We fell in love with NM, also, and actually looked for property there. AZ, NM: such wonderful places to feed the soul. And fabulous places, as you say, for nurturing a love of reading.

  6. Nancy February 20, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    What a great post! Even though I didn’t have a childhood off the grid, books were my best friends, too. And I recognize that possessive feeling, “Mine, mine!” But also have found that mentioning childhood favorites on Facebook or my blog — Anne of Green Gables, Edward Eager, the “shoes” books, etc.– puts me in touch with kindred spirits from all over. Only connect.

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