Those Who Inspire Us to Read

Chances are, if you’re reading this blog post, then you enjoy reading.

You probably devour book after book (and maybe you’re a writer too). You no doubt have a TBR (To Be Read) stack a mile high and your shelf space reached its limit long ago.1 Maybe you’re a regular at your library/bookstore. Maybe you’re in a book club. Maybe your default birthday/holiday gift is a book.

Me too.

But I wasn’t always that way. Sure, my parents read to me growing up, and the highlight of Saturdays was going to the bookstore. I had a library card, and my mother was kind enough to transport me regularly. My parents promoted reading my entire life, and they supported it with their wallets and their time.

But I can’t deny that my love for reading underwent a giant shift in 3rd grade. That was the year I met my best friend, Brenna. You see, Brenna’s mother was a librarian, so Brenna didn’t just like to read—she knew about reading. She knew titles and writer names and genres. Even cooler, her librarian mama was friends with authors. I very vividly recall the day Brenna flashed her signed edition of William Sleator’s Singularity like it was no biggie.

Brenna had grown up reading voraciously thanks to her mother. And Brenna, being a True Leader, took my literary education into her hands. She introduced me to books like Ender’s Game and Jurassic Park when I was a mere 10-year-old (thank goodness my mother never realized what sort of novels I was sneaking home. She would have been Very Horrified by the violence…and the swearing…and the occasional sex scene—not that I had any idea what I was reading when those scenes came along). Brenna was in the lucky type of home where reading mattered more than anything. The fact that 10-year-old Brenna could zoom through an adult thriller in a weekend was seen as an accomplishment by her parents, and there was no denying it: I was enormously impressed.

It was around this time—my formative 5th and 6th grade years–that another person with a literary mind stepped into my life. She was the school librarian, and like Brenna and Brenna’s mom, Mrs. Lunsford knew about books. Best of all, she knew WHICH books I would enjoy (“Oh? You liked Lloyd Alexander? Why don’t you try Tamora Pierce.”). I would burn through a book per day, and the 5 minute gap I had between school’s end and my mom’s arrival to pick me up was always a race to the library.

“I’m finished with Wild Magic,” I would say, panting. “What next?”

“Why there’s a whole series, Susan. I already went to the junior high and picked up book number 2 for you. Here.”

Needless to say, Mrs. Lunsford was a goddess in my eyes—as was Brenna’s mom. And Brenna too. How could they know so much about all these fantasy realms and characters? Every time I would finish a book, they would be there with a new one to recommend.

Reading became more than a fun escape—it became part of who I was. I was more comfortable in the library than I ever was on the playground. It’s no wonder that, by the time high school rolled around, I spent every lunch in the library where Brenna’s mom worked. It’s no wonder that my passion for fantasy and science fiction, for mystery and romance, finally turned into an attempt at crafting my own stories.2

I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be where I am today—a published author with an overflowing TBR pile—if not for Brenna, Brenna’s mother, and Mrs. Lunsford. There are no words to even express how much I owe these women.

Of course, in an odd twist of fate that only God will ever understand, almost all of the librarians from my home town have been stricken with cancer. Brenna’s mother passed away two weeks ago–after years and years of fighting the good fight. She was a warrior princess the likes of which we will never see again. My biggest regret is that I didn’t get to tell her how much she meant to me. (But Brenna, if you’re reading this, I want you to know how much YOU mean to me. To say your family changed my life doesn’t even come close to expressing how much I love you all.)

Mrs. Lunsford is also very ill. I was fortunate enough to see her last week. As her nurses have said, she is a miracle to have held on this long. And Mrs. Lunsford: you have been a miracle to me too. Without you, I never would have found Lloyd Alexander or Garth Nix or Philip Pullman or Tamora Pierce. I never would have learned that loving to read is okay. And—since I set off on this publishing journey—you have continued to teach me all that you know.

While I think it’s important for authors to remember—and thank—those who inspired us to write, I think it’s just as (if not more) important to thank the people who inspired us to read.

So thank you.

You tell me: Who inspired YOU to start reading? To keep reading?

  1. I have resorted to stacking books horizontally. It is a temporary fix, at best…
  2. Though I never would have had the courage to even try writing if not for the fiery, unsurpassed Mrs. Chesser. She introduced her students to Shakespeare in 5th grade, and in 6th grade, we each had to write short stories—good short stories, I might add.

26 Responses to Those Who Inspire Us to Read

  1. MaryAnn Sep 17 2012 at 7:35 am #

    Hi Susan. I’ve always loved to read, but as an adult I don’t always have the time to indulge like I used to. I had a college teacher, Mrs. Ferguson, who had us read quite a bit. No surprise, the class was World Literature. She reawakened the passion for reading that I had lost in my teens. Funny how you remember people who have had an impact, and they probably will never realize it. Anyhoo–Jane Austen and Agatha Christie are my favorite authors, and she is a teacher I will never forget.

    MaryAnn a.k.a JAustenwannabe

    • Sooz Sep 17 2012 at 12:13 pm #

      I definitely don’t always have the time for reading that I’d LIKE to have. But like you say, the ones who spark the love never fade from our memories. And WOW, I’m a huge Agatha Christie fan (I love that you are too!).

  2. Daphne Sep 17 2012 at 10:33 am #

    Susan, this is a lovely post. Much the same as you, I was inspired to read by my second grade best friend, Poonam, who recommended the 4th book of the then fledgeling series, Sweet Valley Kids.

    I never looked back. Poonam did move away and I never kept in touch, but if she’s out there reading this, THANK YOU.

    • Sooz Sep 17 2012 at 12:14 pm #

      Yay! I’m so glad you also have a friend that inspired you to read. I think it’s easy to assume it has to have been a teacher or librarian, but friends are just as pivotal in sparking our reading love. Heck, my own sister was the one to force me to FINALLY read HP (right after GOBLET OF FIRE came out). Thank goodness for those people. <3

      • Daphne Sep 19 2012 at 12:10 pm #

        Strangely enough my cousin forced me to read HP, right when there were only COS was out. He went on to never finish it, but I kept on, was blown away by POA and again, never looked back.

        Yes, thank goodness for friend recommendations! That’s also how I started reading Twilight and The Hunger Games 🙂 Now I try as often as I can to recommend to other people (I did it at work for my co-worker’s teenager recently, which was really satisfying).

  3. Rowenna Sep 17 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    I had nerd parents who read to me from day one–apparently my mom would just read whatever she was reading to infant me. (I also ate a few of my dad’s sci-fi paperback covers as a toddler. I later read those books and they were quite good.) I grew up surrounded by books and encouraged to read–I knew better than to beg for toys in the store, but requests for a book were usually granted (thanks, nerd parents!). And once I started reading, I didn’t want to stop…

    • Sooz Sep 17 2012 at 5:50 pm #

      My parents were the same! Spending on books was pretty much always okay, and trips to the library were always indulged. I am forever, FOREVER grateful to my parents for that!

  4. Elodie Sep 17 2012 at 1:23 pm #

    Okay I teared up reading this post…Cancer is a bitch. There. That´s said.

    And I´m glad you had such wonderful people in your life encouraging you to read.

    My parents definitely gave me the taste of reading, but there´s one teacher who recognized how much I loved it, and gave me more books to read, when he noticed I was done with my reading exercises.

    My grandmother of my mother side also loved reading, she had so many books, and she told me about them…

    My friends in Junior High and High school.

    Many people.
    And I´m thankful!

    • Sooz Sep 17 2012 at 5:52 pm #

      Ah, I forgot about my grandparents. On my father’s side they were ALWAYS giving me books that were waaaay too hard for me (I remember trying to tackle original Sherlock Holmes at age ~8. I wasn’t ready for it, but I sure tried!). And like you said, so many people!! Thank you to everyone!! <3

  5. Kateri Sep 17 2012 at 4:03 pm #

    This post brought me to tears! Thank you so much for sharing!
    I dedicate my love of books first to my mom, who never said no when I asked her for money for book orders and forced me to read the good ones when I was little and didn’t know any better, to Harry Potter, and lastly to my best friend, who made me realize it was cool to carry a book around school as an accessory.
    (Seriously, I started collecting bookmarks so that I could match them with my outfits.)

    • Sooz Sep 17 2012 at 5:53 pm #

      Ha! Bookmarks that match–I LOVE!! Oh my gosh, I feel like we need a contest (best outfit and matching book/bookmark!). You’re so right: books ARE the best accessory.

  6. Ellen Sep 17 2012 at 6:22 pm #

    My parents were big influences in my reading life. They took my sister and me to the library and our local Barnes and Noble or Borders and read to us until they had no more voices left. When I was younger, my mom picked out everything I read. She’s the influence behind my reading stories like “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” or “The Betsy Tacy Books.” My dad didn’t pick things out for us, but he definitely made suggestions. Because of him I’ve read “Lord of the Rings” and loved it.

    No doubt about it. I wouldn’t be as varied a reader, or probably a reader at all, without my parents.

    • Sooz Sep 17 2012 at 10:07 pm #

      Oh goodness, thinking back on what my parents recommended…ahh, it makes my heart warm and fuzzy. Mom got me into mysteries (starting with Nancy Drew and eventually shifting into Agatha Christie) while Dad introduced me to the classics like CHRONICLES OF NARNIA or A WRINKLE IN TIME. Thank goodness for reading parents!! 😀

  7. JQ Trotter Sep 17 2012 at 6:35 pm #

    This was a really great post. I really wish I had a librarian friends growing up, though I’m sorry to hear about your friends battles with cancer.

    Growing up, I really didn’t enjoy reading. At all. I’m dyslexic so it wasn’t easy for me and when I struggled I thought I was just stupid. Luckily, I have an amazing mother who realized I needed help that my public elementary school could not provide so she home schooled me and took me to a specialist, Ms. Billie, who helped me overcome dyslexia. Ms. Billie and my mother inspired me to read. They both went through a lot of effort to help me, so reading as much as I can is the least I could do for them. By the time I was in high school, I was reading and enjoying it. Without them, I doubt that would be true 🙂

    • Sooz Sep 17 2012 at 10:08 pm #

      Wow–WOW. What a story! That’s quite an impressive (and inspirational) story. Thank heavens for your concerned mother and people like Ms. Billie. I have a close friend who went through something similar, but unlike you, it wasn’t until COLLEGE that someone realized she wasn’t “just stupid”. Fortunately, she loves reading now. 😉

  8. Lori T. Sep 17 2012 at 8:36 pm #

    Hi Susan! I just want to print this article out and hug it <3 Aside from the sad parts about your former librarians, for which I'm truly sorry for and completely understand what you're going through, this was such an uplifting, encouraging post. I've always loved reading. I'm not sure I could point out any one person who inspired me the most to read, but I'm always thankful for my 9th grade high school English teacher who introduced me to Poe. His works forever changed what I read and how I write. Also, I'm really influenced by other authors, such as yourself. So many great books influence me to want to be a better writer. And that TBR pile? Try working in a high school library. I have an entire library I want to read! LOL!

    • Sooz Sep 17 2012 at 10:10 pm #

      Haha! An entire library, indeed! I agree that pinpointing one person who inspired me is…well, impossible. But these women definitely were biiiiig starting points. Total paradigm shifts, if you know what I mean. 😀 Definitely like you had with your English teacher.

      And aww shucks–I’m glad authors are so inspirational. <3 <3 <3

  9. Alexa Loves Books Sep 17 2012 at 10:51 pm #

    I’ve got to say – I absolutely LOVE this post. I think it’s very important indeed to thank those people who got us reading! I’m so grateful for my mom, who definitely encouraged my reading and helped me find books to suit my interests. Plus, she NEVER thought to limit or police whatever books I wanted from the library or bookstore – which meant that I had pretty much unrestricted access to all kinds of books at a young age!

  10. Arianna Sterling Sep 18 2012 at 11:44 am #

    You know…I honestly always loved reading. I mean, I didn’t at the very beginning, because it was hard for me, but as soon as I actually figured it out it was my favorite thing in the world. My grandparents took me to our library constantly (the Toledo library is still one of my favorite places) and always had to limit me on how many books I could check out, or I would grab everything in sight. It’s probably because of my grandparents that the libraries mean so much to me as well…I mean, I can go be surrounded by books that absolutely anyone has access to for free. What’s not to love?

    Related note: in two years I’m moving to a tiny city of about 20,000 people (I’m used to living in cities with several hundred thousand) and already started looking into their library. Their YA/MG section leaves something to be desired. So I’ve decided I’m going to see about working their while I earn my MFA and do my best to improve the selection 🙂

  11. Lorna Sep 18 2012 at 11:44 am #

    Love this post! So sweet and touching. I have always enjoyed reading, but I think Judy Blume inspired me to keep reading. Her coming-of-age stories and memorable characters became such a powerful escape for me during those awkward years!

  12. Jay Bendt Sep 18 2012 at 1:34 pm #

    I wrote a bit more about this in my blog, but my first indirect encouragements to read came from my Grandfather (or more like, my grandfather’s library), my mom and my aunts/uncles who’d buy me crazy books I still remember. The most direct encouragement I ever got was from my English teacher in freshman and sophomore year of high school, who even though I was reading “love stories” (I was obsessed with Nicola and the Viscount) rather than Homer’s Iliad, encouraged me to read as many books as I possibly could.

    This in turn led to me spending most of my afternoons at Barnes and Noble or the library after school, during my teenage years, reading as much as I possibly could.

  13. Brenna Sep 18 2012 at 6:03 pm #

    Thanks so much, Doozy. I wish everyone could have a best friend to enjoy books with and amazing parents and librarians to nurture their interests. Love you!

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