Slowdown on Sunday: My Reading Mother

“Richer than I you can never be —
I had a Mother who read to me.”
                —from “The Reading Mother” by Strickland Gillilan

The Sunday Slowdown The 3 Rs BlogI actually did not have a mother who read to me. In our house, the parent who did the reading aloud was my dad. And once I learned to read for myself, before I entered kindergarten, I really didn’t want anyone to read to me.

My mother’s eyesight was so poor that she qualified as legally blind–when reading, she had to get so close to the page that it was difficult to share it with anyone else, particularly a young child. Because of her vision, Mom spent much of her time with her nose, quite literally, buried in a book.

Here’s the thing: I may not have had a mother who read to me, but I DID have a mother who read, and that is the example that has made all the difference.

Mom took my sister and me on weekly excursions to the library, and when we stopped finding books that appealed to us in the children’s section, she gave us gentle direction toward more grown-up reading material. She was curious about the young-adult books we were discovering for ourselves. I sometimes raided the paperbacks on her shelves in return, but as I grew older, that happened less frequently. One of the ways I asserted an independent identity was in cultivating reading interests that diverged from my mother’s, and one of the things I regret now is that I was sometimes so reactionary about it.

planting the seeds to grow a reader

My mom was a devoted reader of romance for several years during my teens, and that sent me in the completely opposite direction. I think I may have picked up a Georgette Heyer or two, and I may have sampled a couple of the Regencies, but I had no absolutely use for the Harlequins. To this day, romance is largely a Genre I Do Not Read.

I was more open to sharing Mom’s interest in reading fantasy. I think I introduced her to Tolkein via The Hobbit, but she plunged headlong into Middle-Earth after that, and she introduced me to Mary Stewart’s Merlin novels and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders. Fantasy and its cousins, sci-fi and speculative fiction, have become genres I’m more likely to consume in visual form rather than written, but I do read them every now and then. And while I realize they’re “low” fantasy at most, I’m sorry the Harry Potter books came along too late for Mom to discover them; I’m quite certain she would have embraced and loved them all.

I never quite knew what to make of Mom’s relatively late-in-life affection for comics. It was awkward. Thirty-odd years ago, comics weren’t the pervasive pop-culture force they are today; there was adult-oriented material if you knew where to find it, but most of what was out in the mainstream was still kid stuff. Middle-aged women did not read comic books–but Mom did. Granted, they were mostly Archie collections–which comics nerds like my husband would say don’t count–but long after I’d “outgrown” them, she was still bringing them home.

It seems my mother was well ahead of her time. Now, I’ve become a middle-aged woman who wants to read comics…but I don’t, mostly because middle age has brought me some vision challenges of my own. I’m not legally blind, but my eyesight’s never been good, and it’s gotten complicated over the last decade or so. Things were easier when I was simply nearsighted. Now I wear contact lenses for distance and put reading glasses on over them for close-up work, but tiny print gets tougher for me to read all the time, especially in low light. A lot of the lettering in comics is too small for me to handle comfortably, so I just don’t.

As she developed early-onset Alzheimer’s, one of the clearest indicators that something was wrong with Mom was that she didn’t read any more.

My mother read voraciously, and sometimes indiscriminately. She’d run late, or ignore housekeeping, because she was engrossed in a book. She raised two reading daughters–one of them is now a school librarian, and the other writes about the books she reads; both grew up to be reading mothers, too.

I will always be grateful that I had a mother who read. It’s the example–and the love–that has made all the difference.


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Happy Mother’s Day to all of my fellow American moms! I hope you’re getting to spend the day however you like–maybe with a good book? That’s definitely part of my plan!

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