By Amy Kaufman Burk
Until age 7, reading was my secret.
Within the community of my ‘60s artsy elementary school, reading before 2nd grade was considered hazardous, a threat to free-flowing creativity. The teachers loudly praised Willy’s talent with a paintbrush, Marsha’s coordination in dance, Jeff’s gift at charades, Lorelei’s ability to sing. I wasn’t about to advertise my embarrassingly persistent craving for books.
Today there seems to be an unofficial Race To Read, with parents of preschoolers urging their toddlers to sound out Dr. Seuss. But decades ago, in my private grammar school, filled with film industry offspring, academic learning was viewed as a potential block to the artistic process.
My “unhealthy enjoyment” of math had already raised red flags in first grade. So I wrote my own math books at home, and stashed the worksheets in my T-shirt drawer. I had no difficulty hiding my admiration for the balance of numbers on either side of the equal sign, my awe at the concept of infinity. I liked math and I respected math; but I wasn’t in love.
Reading was different. I needed to read. I grew up in a home with tens of thousands of books, and I tried (and failed) to read all of them. I raided my parents’ shelves for their cache of children’s literature. I tread the paths of The Secret Garden, explored The South with Huck Finn, smiled through The World of Pooh.
Finally, I reached age 7, the magic number: I could officially learn to read at school. My teacher wrote on the chalkboard — “Cat” “Hat” “Bat” “Rat.” I reminded myself to reign it in. If I sat quietly, then maybe in a month, I could visit the school’s library. Maybe, if I got really lucky, my teacher wouldn’t get mad if I checked out a chapter book. Nobody had to know I’d been reading for years.
Then Hope raised her hand. “How do you spell ‘girl’?” Before I remembered, I heard myself answer, “G-I-R-L.” The class stared.
“How long have you been reading?” my teacher asked quietly.
My lower lip trembled, and I couldn’t speak, imagining the worst possible punishment: she’d forbid me from reading. But my teacher was kind. In spite of her concern that my creative potential had been compromised – a concern that would follow me through graduation – she hugged my shoulders. “It’s okay,” she calmed me. “These things happen sometimes.” I melted into her arms. I was flawed, but forgiven.
Over the next month, she fed me Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House On The Prairie series. I forged ahead with Nancy Drew and her astonishing life, stumbling into a new mystery every day of the week – all with enviable blonde hair, two ever-present girlfriends who were unfailingly content in her shadow, and an uber-hunky boyfriend who worshipped her and then conveniently disappeared from the text until his presence was required for a date, a prom, or a moment of adoration. From the girl-sleuth, I launched into A Wrinkle In Time, The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes, and the list continues to this day.
I emerged from hiding. I could finally publicly admit my fascination with a curious phenomenon: black print on white paper could take me by the heart, or by the throat, and pull me into an intensely emotional journey, cover to cover.
As an adult, when I began to write my novel, I was told that with the advent of texting, instant messaging, Snapchat, and All-Things-Tech, many teenagers were no longer interested in books.
I accept that as a challenge.
If I’m going to call myself a writer, then I’m responsible for creating a novel that compels people to read. It’s my job to write each sentence in a way that propels the reader into the next sentence. I wrote my book for adults and teens, for book lovers, and for those who have never made it through a novel. I hope all types of readers and potential readers will give my book a chance. If you provide an open mind, then I’ll provide the story. Once you read the first paragraph, you can choose to try the second paragraph, or you can put it away forever. If I don’t catch your interest, the fault is mine, not yours.
Maybe you won’t like the book; maybe you will. Or maybe you’ll fall in love, and step into a lifetime of literary journeys. What have you got to lose? The downside is a bit of your time; the upside is infinite.
Amy Kaufman Burk published her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, in support of the LGBTQIA community, and as a voice against bullying. www.hollywoodhighbook.com