My sister-in-law, a kindergarten teacher for more than twenty years, posted a photo on Facebook of three of her students engrossed in reading books. She wrote: “This makes my heart so happy.”
And there they were, the small chairs pushed against the wall, their feet on the ground, but their faces obscured by large books such as, Hop on Pop and Bunny’s Noisy Book. Three girls all engrossed in reading. Young girls who read become women who read, and women who read are considered “dangerous” by some.
I couldn’t wait to learn to read. A few weeks before I began kindergarten family friends visited our home after church. The older son, a few years older than me, was studying the Sunday comics. He had them spread open on the floor, while he lay on his stomach, chin resting on his hands, and one foot propped onto his other foot. I watched him reading those comics and it’s my earliest memory of envy. I was so jealous that he could read when I could not.
In her forward to the book, Women Who Read Are Dangerous, writer Karen Joy Fowler writes:
In 1523 the Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives proposed careful male surveillance. ‘The woman ought not to follow her own judgment,’ he said, as she had so little of it. She should read only what men deemed proper and wholesome. He marveled that any father, any husband, would allow his daughter, his wife to read freely.
I grew up in a household of books, and my parents encouraged my reading by taking regular trips to the local public library where I checked out stacks of books. My obsession for reading began early.
In third grade, my teacher read The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. But she only read a few pages a day which was way too slow for me—I had to know how the story would unfold! So I checked the books out from the library and hurriedly finished read them ahead of the class. When my teacher read the books, I then savored the stories like I was visiting with old friends.
And, as an early indicator of my future reading habits, when my teacher read a book that was part of a series, I had to read all the books in the series, whether my teacher was going to or not. I convinced my grandmother to take me to her local public library to see if they had a copy of Farmer Boy (from The Little House series) because my library didn’t have a copy. Fortunately, the library did have a copy and she borrowed it for me.
Fowler continued in the forward, with irony:
Women are too literal-minded for reading. Women are too sentimental, too empathetic, too distractable for reading. Women are passive, practically somnolent, consumers of popular culture, never realizing how, with the very books they choose, they participate in their own subordination.
Reading did lead me to challenge my subordination—perhaps as far back as the summer between grade 4 and 5. My other grandmother found a large box of Nancy Drew mystery novels and bought them for me which I promptly plunged into. And from that box of books I learned that a young woman could be smart, observant, a problem-solver, and the leader of her group of friends. Subconsciously Nancy Drew became a role model for me, distinct from the description of Christian womanhood I heard at church. My resistance against my own subordination took root because of Nancy Drew, girl detective.
Recently, a friend posted about a mother disciplining her daughter for misbehaving in class. The mother’s response to her daughter: “When we get home you’re gonna be sent to your room where the only thing you can do is read.” Many of us despaired that this mother was teaching her daughter that reading was a form of punishment. But my hope is this young girl learns the gift of being sent to one’s room to read. Perhaps, then, this girl could learn to love reading and become a dangerous adult woman who reads.