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23 January 2008

Words on Wednesday: Words Learned as a Child

I recently reread Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. I first read this book about 40 (!) years ago and although I didn't recall the plot precisely, there were many things about the experience of reading that book that I have retained over the years.

Meg is one of the most memorable protagonists from any book I read as a child. She was strong and willful and awkward and smart, unsure of how she fit in her world -- all characteristics that I identified with.

There were scenes from the book that I've remembered, such as when the children travel to Camazotz and first see the conformity of the townspeople: all of the houses look alike, all of the children bounce their balls at the same time, all of the mothers open their doors and step outside in unison. Driving through many suburban cookie-cutter neighborhoods reminds me of this scene and makes me giggle thinking that there might be some controlling blobby brain dictating their movements. (One could argue that conformity in our society is enforced through marketing and consumerism, rather than some monolithic dictatorial presence, but I think that is a different post.)

But, what I recalled as I read this book were all of the wonderful words that I encountered for the first time when I read this novel when I was 9. Sure there were the scientific words like tessaract that I wasn't even sure existed. A tesseract is, of course, a real word. Although it is theoretical, you'll find an entry in Wikipedia about tesseracts. But, I can't say that I've ever had the opportunity to use tesseract in my writing or daily speech. But, there were other words that I vividly remember looking up in the dictionary and desperately trying to figure out how to use them: wraithlike, antagonistic, raucous, sonorous, propitious, sadist, inexorable. As I came across each of these words I was reminded how I would get up from my favorite reading place and traipse into my grandfather's room to look up the new words in his dictionary. Each word was mysterious and powerful and I wanted each of them to be mine.

A Wrinkle in Time was the first book that I remember challenging me and it may have been the book that made me into a real reader.

What was the book from your childhood that made you love words and love reading?

9 comments:

litlove said...

As a child I was an avid reader of pure rubbish, so I can't really comment on the first book that brought literature alive to me. But I am so grateful for my son, as together we have read so many fabulous children's novels and I feel I've been allowed a second go at that reading world. I loved A Wrinkle In Time when we read it last year, and keep meaning to read the next two books in the series.

Courtney said...

Oh, THIS is the book I remember challenging me as well, and now I am eager to reread it! I remember falling absolutely in LOVE with this book. I'm trying to think of others...the "real" tales of Hans Christian Anderson, Where the Red Fern grows (first book to make me cry)...oh my gosh, you are inspiring me to actually CREATE a reading meme!

Cam said...

Litlove - isn't it fun being able to reread (or read for the first time) children's books with your own children? I haven't read the other two books, but my son read them all. He was upset with me when I took his copy of Wrinkle in Time from his bookshelf. He reminded me several times that it was his and he didn't want me to damage the cover. He's in college now & it's probably been 10 years since he has read it. It must have made a big impression on him too.

Courtney -- can't wait to read your to-be created Reading Meme. I had forgotten about Where the Red Fern Grows.

(un)relaxeddad said...

I've never read that - I remember the cover from the school library. For some reason, I just didn't pick it up. Odd, becuase I read pretty much everything else indiscriminately. Either way, you've just brought a small flood of memories of the school library and some of the happier school times I spent in it back so I'm off to the kitchen to make some tea and wallow a little.

And words. Oh how wonderful it was to discover them. And is.

Emily Barton said...

Oh, I've been wanting to reread A WRINKLE IN TIME for years, having remembered basically nothing about it except that I loved it and it got me through a horrible bout with the flu when I was around eleven or so, but somehow, I never get around to it. I must get around to it, musn't I? As for books from my childhood, lots made me love reading, but the one that most made me love words is THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH. And it was absolutely my favorite book as a child (wasn't it so much easier to state such things as child?).

Dorothy W. said...

I'm not sure exactly what book first made me love words, but I do remember reading the Laura Ingalls books very, very thoroughly because I wanted to glean as much information about her life as I could. That experience may not have given me tons of new vocabulary, but it taught me how to read closely!

Cam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cam said...

Emily, I didn't remember much about the actual plot either, except for the robot-like behavior of the townspeople. I certainly didn't remember any of the religious connotations in it, which seems rather obvious and in-your-face to me now. So I was especially struck by how I remembered learning some of the specific words. Funny how I remember the experience of reading it more than the actual book itself.

Dorothy, I really wanted to like all of the Laura Ingalls books too, but I don't think I finished most of them. I think I was daunted by the length of them when they were age-appropriate for me to read. By the time that I was reading faster -- and therefore could actually finish books I checked out from the library -- I was too old for the Little House books. Or maybe it wasn't reading speed, but rather that I had the same problem I have today: I read too many books at the same time so I don't finish anything promptly!

Imani said...

Anne of Green Gables. Definitely. I had taken to reading by then but she made it more cohesive and focused, not least because the books got me into poetry.

I have to say that the tv series worked hand in hand with the book. Whenever I read of Anne lying in the sinking canoe reciting "The Lady of Shallott" I think of Megan Follows going down the river (in Nova Scotia, sadly, and not PEI).