Monday, March 7, 2011

A Love of Reading - Nature or Nurture?

I recently read a dedication in a book that said, “For my mother, who took me to the library.” What a lovely sentiment, attributing his success as an author to his mother. Then I thought of my own mother and my own upbringing. I love my mom dearly; I can’t imagine a better mother. But I have no memories of her taking me to the library. I don’t recall with fondness sitting on her lap as a youngster listening to her read to me. And yet, I grew up loving books, reading, writing. Where did I get this, if not from the way I was raised? I have to assume I was born with a love for words.

I have several childhood memories related to books and reading. I recall in elementary school, one of my favorite things was when the teacher passed out the Scholastic book order forms. Mom would always allow me to buy one or two books. I would pore over the selections, fill out the form, checking the books I wanted. Then I couldn’t wait till they arrived at the school; the teacher would pass them out, I’d carry them home on the bus, run home and to my room and delve in.

I read everything with printed words. I remember reading every word on the cereal box as I ate breakfast. I read Highlights For Children in the dentist office. I read my Grandpa Drummer’s Field and Stream magazine. Billboards, street signs, the instructions on the forced air hand dryers in public restrooms . . .

And there was my fifth grade teacher, who liked a story I’d written and read it aloud in class. I credit that moment as the first time I knew I wanted to be a writer, even though I didn’t pursue that dream till 30 years later.

In the church we attended when I was a kid, there was a closet of a library with a scant few shelves of books. But every Sunday after the service, I’d find myself there, perusing the titles, and always found something I thought might interest me. Before I even knew how to read, when I was in kindergarten and just learning, in order to occupy myself in the pew during the service, I’d circle all the words I recognized in the church bulletin.

I don’t remember receiving many books from my parents as gifts – oh, surely I did, they knew I loved to read – but I absolutely remember the Christmas they gave me my first Bible; a King James Version, red faux leather cover, tiny print on thin fragile paper. My own Bible! I loved it. I still have it.

And then there was my great-grandfather Umble. He had been a country school teacher, and in his small country cottage, he had a library. I was fascinated with this room, a long narrow rectangle, one wall lined with shelves of books, and his small desk at the far end in front of a window. Great-grandpa knew I loved to read, and despite the fact that he surely had several dozen great-grandchildren, he gave me a few books over the years. Of course, I still have them.

What creates an avid reader/writer? I believe it can be nurture. I started reading to my own sons before they were even born. When they were babies and toddlers, story times were always the highlight of our days. And now as teenagers, they are both voracious readers. But it must also be nature. If someone is born with a love of reading, they will find their way to books.

Angie Kay Dilmore is a freelance writer originally from Pittsburgh Pa., and has lived the past several years in southwest Louisiana. She writes for the children’s magazine market and contributes regularly to Boys’ Life. Angie reviews books for The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog, a literary website featuring publishing industry news, essays, reviews and commentary. She also writes picture books, poetry, and is working on a middle grade historical fiction. You can find Angie blogging at The Trials and Triumphs of a Transplant.


  1. A warm and wonderful story about a born "book person." Nicely done, Angie.

  2. You've told a story many writers share. If you don't love books and stories, you'll never be interested in telling them. Mom did read to me when I was little, and later she took me to the Bookmobile in summer. Thanks for sharing and bringing back great memories.

  3. Angie,
    I am amazed at how similar my story is to yours. Your post brings back those memories so clearly I can smell the fresh print on the newly acquired Scholastic book and see the cartoons in the Highlights Magazine. I do, however, have an additional fond memory of squeezing into the vinyl recliner with Mama for a Hardy Boys Mystery read-aloud. Thanks for the well-written post that sent me on a trip down memory lane.

  4. My mom and dad both loved to read; Mom still does. Though they never took me to the library, they did sign me up for a book club--I got a hardback every month or two. Quite a sacrifice for them back then.

    Our colicky daughter's first public appearance was to the Goodwood Library in Baton Rouge where she was born. Then, she got her first library card in New Iberia. I have pictures! Great post, Angie. BTW, it was my dad who read to me.

    I'm so thankful to come from a reading family and to have married a book-loving man! :)

  5. I grew up in a family of readers and many books, so no surprise that I love words. My sister-in-law grew up in a family where reading books was actively frowned upon as a waste of time. She would sneak a book under the bed covers and read with a flashlight. If she was caught she would be punished. And yet she is a voracious reader and loves words. If you play her in Scrabble, watch out!