I have been reading A LOT lately. A lot. For me, anyway. Your mileage may vary, but at the beginning of the year I set a goal to read 40 books and you guys. You guys, I have read 21 books so far. And it’s not even the halfway point of the year. And I haven’t even had vacation yet, which is when I typically do the bulk of my reading. So, making pretty great strides if I do say so! And I want to do a roundup of the latest books I’ve read, I really do. But I need to tell you first about the book I am currently reading, and about one passage in particular.
If you follow me on social media, you probably saw photo earlier today of a page from a book with a crude red sort-of-square around a paragraph with the caption “I…I have never felt so seen.” Which is, honestly, pretty dramatic, even for me. And I feel I need to expand on this, because it brought a flood – A VERITABLE FLOOD – of memories, and I think you, my half dozen or so loyal readers, will enjoy this story that will serve to explain so much about me.
This passage is from Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion and it is excellent. That’s all I am going to tell you about it, you can read the reviews – the book came out yesterday – and they will tell you everything you need to know, and a hundred times better than I ever could. Moving on.
I learned to read when I was around 4 years old. I spent a lot of time indoors as an asthmatic child. The asthma went undiagnosed until I was about 8, and because of that, in my early years I suffered a lot of sleepless nights (as did my mother) and since I couldn’t always be particularly active, I learned to read.
By the time I got to kindergarten, I was reading at about a grade 3 or 4 level. Other parents expressed shock that I knew how to read, and told my mother that she should have left it for the the school teach me to read, that it was no good to arrive at kindergarten already knowing how. My mother, thankfully, rolled her eyes, said “What am I going to do, stop her? How can you stop someone from reading if they want to read, and why would you even do that?” and gave me more books.
By grade 1 I was reading everything, and reading was my favourite part of any school day. Our lovely teacher Mrs. Rieger developed reading groups for our class, each child assigned to the group based on their reading level. You probably remember the leveled readers in elementary school, they might still even have them. We had Mr. Mugs and Pat and Cathy (Mr. Mugs was a dog) and the idea was to work your way through each level. You can probably guess how fricking excited that made me.
Our groups were named after animals, and while I don’t remember all of the groups, I remember the lowest level were known as Kangaroos, and the best readers in the class were Elephants. I was an Elephant.
After a few weeks, it must have been pretty clear that I was burning through all the readers, and while I don’t remember ever saying I was bored – I was 7, and all shiny-eyed with how much I loved school – but it seemed that Mrs. Rieger felt she needed to challenge me.
When we next broke up into our groups, I remember her very clearly saying “Elizabeth, you’re not with the Elephants anymore, I have a new group for you – the Jets!” At first I was excited – even though Jets are not an animal, and 7-year old Elizabeth liked everything to be just so, why not another animal, Mrs. Rieger – but then I was worried. I was the only Jet. And so I took my brand new reader and went to my section of the classroom to read. All by myself. And I read that book with tears running down my cheeks.
When my mum came to pick me up from school she could tell I was upset and when she questioned me I cried so hard, and through my blubbering, I said, “I only just want to be an Elephant!”
This must have confused my poor mother so much, not having a clue about our reading groups or what the hell I was talking about, so I guess I must have filled her in because the next day mum came to the classroom to explain what the actual fuck was wrong with her daughter. To me, at 7, being in a group of one, even though it was the “elite” reading group – to which others would probably have been added eventually – was a punishment. 7-year old Elizabeth was a fantastic reader, but she was also a very social child (she still is, actually) and while poor Mrs. Rieger thought she was doing me a favour, in reality – well in my brain – she was condemning me to a life of isolation and social exclusion. DRAMAAAAAA.
And of course the story has a happy ending, because I got to go back to being an Elephant, and I was allowed to take the readers from the Jets group home with me in the evenings and even write reports on them if I wanted to – which obviously I DID, because duh.
Please know there is SO MUCH MORE to The Female Persuasion than that passage. This was just one that stopped me in my tracks and made me think I was being Punk’d. Honestly. And I’m glad it did, because, as I said earlier, that is probably the story that best represents me and who I am.
At 7 years old and, 44 years later, at 51.