English is not my first language, but it has become my only language; and from my earliest memories, it was books that made me feel that I was not a complete outsider in the world I inhabited. I might not wear the right kind of bobby-sox, I might not have a ponytail that would swing when I walked, but in books I found others – even American-born others! – who, like me, didn't quite fit in. The strong little girl in A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN would have liked me; I was sure of it!
I was always a slow reader, which is a big handicap for someone who became an English Lit major! I remember that in fourth grade, we were tested to see in which reading group we would be placed the following year. The reading teacher sat at a table in the hallway outside of the classroom; one by one, we were called and given a passage to read.
When it was my turn, I read beautifully, really beautifully. When I proudly finished and looked up, much to my surprise, the teacher asked me questions about what I had read. "You mean you wanted me to read it for meaning," I asked? "I can do that; please give me something else to read." But she wouldn't. "It's all right," she said. "I know where you belong." But she did NOT know; she put me in the “lowest” reading group, and I knew that I did not belong there....
When she'd asked me to read, I was intent on not reading with a "foreign" accent, so I concentrated only on enunciating every word in perfect "American." For me, reading aloud and reading silently were two completely different activities: one was for sound, and one was for understanding. But I couldn't explain it to her, no matter how hard I tried. Happily, my family moved to another part of town that summer, and when at my new school they asked what "Reader" I'd been using, I said without a backward glance, SINGING WHEELS – the book I knew the “highest” reading group had been using! And I've been in the "highest" reading group ever since!
But I remain a very slow reader. I read silently in the same way as I read aloud: enunciating in my head every single syllable, every "and" "or" and "but"...! While this careful reading can be an asset when reading complicated or technical works, it's really a burden when it comes to "light" reading, as they take me too long, and I notice things that are, perhaps, not meant to be noticed. My children are often frustrated with me when I read a thriller they'd loved and I say, "The character could not possibly have done this because on page 193 she said such-and-such..." They hadn't – and probably shouldn’t have! – noticed, and now I'd "spoiled it" for them.
All this is by way of saying that I don't know how many books I'll be reading or writing about. I don't know the authors or the titles or the subjects I'll choose. I love fiction, but I also love to read biographies and histories. I like to picture myself in the skin of someone very "other." I'll read and post about books that I've read many times before – “old friends" who have something new to tell me each time I return to them – as well as books I've never read but have been recommended, or happen to catch my eye, or are just around: books with spines I know well, but with "insides" I know nothing about!
And I'll also write about films and plays, old and new, which to me, are "books" that are read aloud, with that special quality that each story-teller inevitably adds when reading. That's why I love to see new versions of plays and movies I know well; to see them performed by a variety of players; to see if something new can be gleaned through this different performer or director, this different "reader."
So: let me begin and see what happens...