I’ve mentioned it before but I may as well tell the story again. I didn’t learn to read in First Grade. It was probably because I despised the nun who was my teacher for most of that year.
First grade for me started well enough. My teacher was a young, cute, cheery nun named Sister Michael Mary and I was crazy about her. For reasons I’ve never known she was soon replaced by Sister Redempta, an old, ugly, harsh woman who struck our hands with rulers and our ears with her hands. She was the one (along with the coaches of the Khoury League baseball teams I played on) who made me ambidextrous, by striking me when I attempted to write with my left hand.
Whatever the reason, at the end of First Grade I couldn’t read. However, that summer, at least according to the story my mom told, something surprising happened. I took my dad’s old Fourth Grade Reader, disappeared behind the couch for much of the summer, and, when I emerged, could not only read but was reading at a sixth grade level.
It was right about then that I checked out the very first book I ever checked out from the library on my own without my mother having selected it. It was Red Planet by Robert Heinlein. In quick succession thereafter I plowed through every Robert Heinlein juvenile, Isaac Asimov (writing as “Paul French”) juvenile, Oz book, Mushroom Planet book, Tom Swift book, Hardy Boys book, and Roy Rockwell book I could lay my hands on. The next year when I went to the St. Louis Book Fair, I returned home with a huge trove of them, bought for a nickel or ten cents a piece.
In the interest of full disclosure I should probably mention that I was not prejudiced against “girl’s books”. I read all of the Nancy Drew books as well as the Judy Bolton series. I drew the line at the Cherry Ames or Trixie Belden books. I have never read the Bobbsey Twins books and you can’t make me but I did read all of Lucy Fitch Perkins’s “Twins” series books and enjoyed them.
I also read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, received a copy of Bulfinch’s Mythology on my 9th birthday, and read every one of Andrew Lang’s “color” books of fairy tales I could find.
I discovered the “Andre Norton” juveniles and read all of those I could put my hands on. At the urging of my parish priest, I read C. S. Lewis’s Perelandra series (I didn’t discover the Narnia books until I was an adult). I read At the Back of the North Wind. Treasure Island. Kidnapped. The Swiss Family Robinson.
I exhausted those but, a year or so later, my mom gave me a copy of a collection of H. Rider Haggard novels when I had the mumps and my transition to adult fiction began. I finished all of the Haggard books I could find, devoured Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, and began tipping my toe into contemporary adult science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, and classic and contemporary fiction. But that’s another story.
Not only was all of this decades before online anything, paperbacked books were just starting to become available in quantity. What I liked to read went out of print rapidly and, in general, if the library didn’t have it, I had to haunt the used book stores to find copies. Reading was synonymous with collecting. To read you had to collect.