I love this excerpt, published in today’s Globe and Mail, from children’s author Susan Juby’s new memoir, Nice Recovery. This book has gone straight to my list of “what to read next,” and it may be a contender for the reading list for next fall’s personal narrative course. In it, Juby discusses her struggle, beginning at the age of 13, with alcoholism. These paragraphs summarize her experience with being a child reader, and resonate uncannily with my own.
…it may have been a mistake to use books as a guide to life. This is because books misled me about a few things. Thanks to warm-hearted stories like Anne of Green Gables, I expected to encounter kindred spirits on every corner, as well as gruff but caring old people… Books hoodwinked me into believing a set of lies about what was and was not important in life. In books…having a good vocabulary was crucially important. When I went to school it turned out to be a serious liability. In books a lack of concern about clothes and personal appearance showed solid character. In school such unconcern spelled social disaster. In books knowing a lot about a lot of things…was admirable and likely to be rewarded. At school it pretty much guaranteed that everyone would think you were a show-off and a bore and would shun you. In books people were mostly nice, and the ones who weren’t nice were easy to spot. In school villains were everywhere and they were well disguised.
In all this talk about why it is important for young people to read literature, this aspect – a very real one – is often overlooked, and I’ve been struggling to put words to it in order to introduce it into the conversation. When you are young, being a reader can really mess up your relationship with the world around you. Is it any wonder, then, that it’s difficult to convince people in their late teens that reading is a good way to spend their time?