Throwback Thursday – #tbt – How Did I Get Here? – #3 – Books

If I’m doing a list of the 10 things that had the strongest influence in who I’ve become at the midpoint of my life, it’s telling that the thing I jump to as the third most influential thing in my entire life, after family and after friends, is books.

In fact, I could probably do a specific list of 10 books that have influenced me in some significant way.  (Heck, I could probably do a list of 100 books that have done that!)

But the thing is, I don’t really know how I became such a book lover.

A big part of why I loved books is because my parents were both readers.  In addition to regular books (mostly nonfiction), I’ve already mentioned how dad would read the newspaper every single night.  My mom read a lot as well, mostly paperback fiction.

There are numerous studies that say that simply being raised *around* books helps improve literacy and that rings true because, although I remember them reading to me, I don’t remember my parents pushing reading or trying to make me that precocious kid who shows up in kindergarten knowing the entire alphabet front and backwards, writing their name in script and quoting Shakespeare before nap time! 😉

The early exposure to books and reading is also a big part of why I was a pretty good student from day one.  I’d go so far as to say that I was probably one of the smartest kids in my class throughout elementary school (not as big of an achievement as it sounds when you remember I’m in a pretty small town with only 40-50 kids in my grade.) 😉

I have some strong book & reading related memories that stand out from my early years:

* I don’t know when you switch from books with pictures (even just a few illustrations like Hardy Boys) to books without any pictures.  But I do remember the first time one of my best friends told me he’d read a paperback novel and I was like “Whoa – this guy just raised the bar!”)

* Sometime around grade five, I decided the best way to improve my intelligence was to read not just regular books but to read the dictionary.  One of the cool kids saw me doing this during silent reading and loudly blurted out “Are you reading the dictionary???” I quickly switched back to “normal” books the next day. 🙂

* In grade seven, I distinctly remember our homeroom teacher had a “race track” numbered from 1-15 on the back wall with each student having a cardboard car with their name on it.  He required us to read 10 books through the 10-month school year and if someone got to 15, he’d buy them a pop.  I managed to read over 45 and was well on my way to 60 at the end of the year (though he did clarify his rule that students were only entitled to one free pop!)

* He also made us write one page “reviews” of the books we read (mostly as proof we’d read them) and I got a couple on his “Wall of Fame”.  But I remember knowing so clearly that one of my reviews would go on the Wall of Fame because I wrote it in a “This…that, this…that, this…that” format where I literally felt my writing getting better as I put it down on paper!

* On that note, at the time I felt it was “cheating” that some of my classmates who didn’t like reading would look for the easiest, thinnest books they could find to move their cars forward.  (I remember “Illustrated Guinness Sports Records for Kids” being the type of title that was popular as each page had a cartoon with a short blurb at the bottom.  Our teacher’s rule was “any book you can find in the school library” counts and over time, I’ve come to appreciate that any reading is good reading so I realise these kids weren’t cheating and it was good they were reading anything, even easier books.

* Along those same lines, I’ve long believed that Stephen King was my generation’s JK Rowling and I knew more than one kid who hated reading but would read every book Stephen King produced.

* Thinking about this now, I suspect I read way more than 45 books that year since those were just the ones I read in school from our library.  I also read books I owned (often repeatedly) and books I got from the public library so I was probably well over 100 books read in total.

* I read “Diary of a Young Girl” (aka “The Secret Annex”) somewhere around grade seven for the first time and it hit me like a ton of bricks – so much so that I made a point of reading it annually for the next few years and then regularly after that.

* In our increasingly offense-conscious society, it shocks me to even think this but I remember being surprised to find “Mein Kampf” on my high school library’s shelves when I was in perhaps grade ten or so.  I checked it out (and credit to the librarian, she didn’t say anything or report me to the police!)  In some weird way, I had it in my head that this would be like the story of some comic book/movie villain.  But instead of being like that, it was…boring.  Rambling.  Incoherent even.  (I recently talked to a colleague who shared that they had a very similar experience with the book which was nice to hear that it wasn’t just me to felt this way.)  This is the example I always think of whenever I hear of people who want to censor an “evil” book or assume that anybody who reads something offensive or controversial will be negatively influenced by it.  This sounds very weird but I honestly think I was positively influenced by trying to read “Mein Kampf” (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write on this blog and will be a contextless pull quote used against me if I ever run for elected office!) because it actually made me more open-minded, tolerant and willing to examine tough ideas.

After graduating high school, I started University with a declared major in…Business Administration.  My thinking was that this would guarantee me a job but after failing economics in my first semester (as much to do with having an 8:30am class in my first semester of freedom as my inability to master the concepts!), I went through a series of declared majors – Film, Psychology, Political Science – finally settling on English which is what I obtained my four-year BA – English degree in five years later. (Economics wasn’t the only class I failed!  So much for that super-smart kid from elementary school!) 😉

After convocation, it was tough to find work of any kind with a regular BA, let alone in my field but again, a lot of luck (also recurring theme requiring a separate entry about privilege in our society) led to me being accepted to a work placement program which led to contract work for the Saskatchewan Publishers Group, a province-wide publishing association.  That led to another contract then another contract then eventually, a restructuring in the organization when one co-Executive Director left which created a permanent position for me as “Marketing and Technology Officer”.

I did that job for four years from 1997-2001 then Shea graduated from nursing and I had the tough choice of staying with a job I loved or following the woman I loved to Alberta (uhm, Happy Valentine’s Day honey!)

I made the right choice and was *again* fortunate to end up finding work in the non-profit literary world, this time working for the Writers Guild of Alberta serving writers in many of the same ways that I’d served publishers in Saskatchewan.

Throughout it all, I was around books, authors, publishers, editors and was lucky enough to begin getting some of my own writing published in newspapers, magazines, and even editing or contributing short chapters to actual, real books!

I worked at the WGA for three and a half years then an opportunity came up to return to Saskatchewan.  We were home for a year when I decided for a number of reasons that the time was right to apply to complete my Master of Library Science degree – something that had been in the back of my mind for at least a decade.

I applied, was accepted and completed the accelerated MLIS program at the University of Western Ontario where I went for a single year of classes, taking one extra class per semester and working through summer to end up at the same place as a traditional two-year program.

That has led to the past ten years where I have worked in a variety of roles across two public library systems while also continuing to write for both pay and pleasure.  I was also recruited for the the board of Coteau Books, a local literary press that I’ve been connected to since I started working for the Sask Publishers Group in 1997.  I joined in 2012 and continue to sit on that board to this day.

All of this is a really long way to say that, in many ways, from those first steps into the Indian Head public library as a child where I felt like I truly had the entire world available to me through books on through my schools years, my undergrad education, my various jobs after I convocated, my graduate studies and now as a librarian, my entire life has been influenced by, immersed in and surrounded with books.

Even today, the Sask Book Awards were announcing their 2019 shortlist so I slipped down to RPL’s Central Library on my lunch hour to attend the announcement.

But sitting there listening to the nominees being announced, I couldn’t help but keep thinking about how many hats I wear at an event like this – I’m there as an RPL employee since I’m proud that RPL is a major sponsor of the awards, I’m there as a Coteau Books board member (11 nominations this year – the most for our press in a decade!), I’m there as a former Sask Book Awards board member, I’m there as someone who knows many of the writers and publishers from my previous jobs before I became a librarian, heck, I’m even there as an aspiring writer who likes to imagine what it’d be like to hold a book with my own name on the cover in my hands someday (and maybe even hear my name announced as an award nominee!)

I combine two of the biggest loves of my life by collecting books about the Beatles.


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