It’s all about the story
I remember a long trip in our car when I was four. After the first hour of driving we got stuck in a traffic jam. I got bored with my colouring book after a while, so I tried to decipher the license plates on the cars around us. That was the start of my reading career. Basically I learned reading by pronouncing the letters of the road signs and the shop signs, when we were driving in the car, visiting somebody of our widely spread family. That was before I got my very first book, which had the wonderful title Etchy, the ink monster, followed by Etchy, the pocket monster.
Many more books followed, one for each long trip in the car or on the train. People around us were wondering why I would sit there, so quietly and well-behaved while their children were running around, yelling and driving the other passengers mad. “How do you get her to read?” they would ask. My parents would reply: “The right question is, how do we get her to not read for a change?” At the age of six, I read everything I could get my hands on. Sometimes my parents weren’t around to explain the words I didn’t know yet, so they got me a dictionary and my dad showed me how to use it. To not interrupt the reading all the time, I would write down the words that I didn’t understand (which means I copied the letters), finish the paragraph, then look the words up I had written down and then read the paragraph again. This way, I ‘accidentally’ learned writing as well. From around the 7th grade on, my class mates would call me ‘Miss Cyclopedia’ because I knew all the strange words they sometimes struggled with, and I wrote pretty elaborate essays considering my age.
When I got my first library card, again a whole new world opened up. Once a week after school I would go into the library and get two or three books that I would read during the week. We didn’t have cable TV or a video game station at home, so my treat after doing homework was reading fictional stories. I envied Hanni and Nanni for having each other (I didn’t have any siblings), I cried when the Little Prince was talking about his rose, it was a wonderful time. I started writing fictional short stories and copied the style of the authors I was reading at the time. The papers got thrown out after a while or got lost when we moved to another city but the memories are still there, locked inside me and helping me write. Little steps on the way of finding my own writing voice.
In my first year at the university I met nine people during ‘Newby-week’ that I immediately clicked with, and we became this group that would always meet up for coffee after we came out of our various lectures and seminars and would go to book stores, flea markets and swap parties. We all had to attend one obligatory, weekly lecture during the first semester, and we realized pretty quickly that lectures are mostly an antique relict from a time when books were immensely expensive or unavailable for ordinary people, and that we could just read the script that was handed out to prepare for the exam at the end of semester. So each week we would sit down in the very back of the room, and each one of us would have a thin book that he would read during the 90-minute-session, and then pass it on to the person sitting next to him. So, at the end of the semester, everyone of us had read about 10 different books.
Today, for me, it’s all about the story. The story that I read has to be interesting, life is too short for bad or dull stories. I think when you start your career as a reader, you should read bad stories, so that you know a good one when you found it. But once you are able to spot the bad stories, don’t force yourself to finish them. It’s like a meal that makes you feel sick, you wouldn’t force yourself to eat up unless maybe there is nothing (and I mean nothing) else available. So, if there are good stories to read, don’t stick with anything that’s boring you or insults your intellect. I am writing about stories here because I don’t only mean books but also for example movies. Due to the fact that I read so much, when I watch a movie I’m not just seeing the running pictures, I see a story developing – and no, this is not self-evident. Lots of people I know don’t really care about the story, or films like Battleship wouldn’t be produced in the first place. Who proof-reads scripts like that, for Heavens sake? It’s one thing when the people writing the story don’t take it seriously (then something like Sharknado might be the outcome) but it’s something entirely different when people really think what they made is good, and it just doesn’t make sense at all to anybody else.
As you might already have noticed, I’d rather call myself a good reader than a good writer, especially in English I still have to learn a lot (not my native tongue). But I like writing, writing helps me think. Writing helps me to gain or change perspective, and it gives me a place to rant when other people wouldn’t listen. Or to tell you all about tiny things I’ve noticed that nobody but me cares about. So, thank you for reading, and thank you even more for writing.
Thanks to the Ravenously Disappearing Woman for leading me to this challenge and therefore to dive into my memories!