Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hi, My Name is DeAnna, and I'm a Reader

By DeAnna Knippling


I've been thinking a lot about readers lately, about what they want and need. As a "them" rather than solely as an "us." This is not the bullet-point article that tells you the seven things that readers want and need.  I'm still too close to being utterly and solely a reader to do it now; I get sucked into the stories I'm writing so hard that I don't give two cents about my readers. So today it's just about the memories that came back while I was thinking about it.

I suspect that we become avid readers out of damage.

Here’s my story; I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether yours is similar. There are two incidents.

The second one was twelve years ago. It was my first office job, which meant I could afford to go out for lunch. I’d drive off alone, buy something cheap but tasty, and hide in my car to read and eat. I’d glare at anyone who drove by, as though I were afraid they’d steal my food.

That wasn’t it, though. I was afraid of being punished.  For betraying a lifetime of home cooking and plain living and honest hard work that involved at least a modicum of sweat from my brow. I was above myself, too big for my britches. I was making a living off the signature on my BA and my typing speed, and it was a kick in the gut every day. I grew up poor, and I see my parents as trying to prepare me for the worst, instead of the best, in life. In gentler words, to survive rather than to dream. They were happy I got the job but it felt hollow. The wrong kind of success.

In the midst of that, I was getting a coffee refill from the break room, where one of my co-workers was brazenly, openly eating lunch and reading. Alone. I don’t remember what she was eating. She had red hair so streaked with white it looked neon pink. She never spoke to me, or really to anyone. I considered her a crazy cat lady despite knowing nothing about her. The Fates had punished her by making sure she’d never have a family or friends or anyone to talk to. Just like they were going to punish me.

She was reading a prehistorical something or other. She turned to the last page, finished it, got heavily and awkwardly off a tall stool with short legs, and...threw away the book.

It clanged in the empty trash can.

After a few seconds, I said, “What did you do that for?”

She grinned at me. I felt like she was looking into my soul, finding my deepest fears small, fuzzy, and kind of cute. “Because I was done with it.”

“But what if you want to reread it?”

“I won’t,” she said. “I never did like to read the same book twice. But if I did...I’d just buy another one.”

It was a strange turning point in my life. I’ve carried it around for years, not even realizing that it meant something to me, but unable to forget about it, either.

That's the second story. Here's the first.

When I was a kid it was my mom’s job to teach me how to...be a person. Be female. Fit in with society. All that. Again, preparing me for the worst. Keep your legs crossed, stand up straight, and brush your hair kind of stuff. Be just like everyone else. Don't attract attention and you won't get hurt.

Didn't work.

When my daughter was about six or so, she came to me and said she wanted bangs. I couldn't make myself spend the money to get her bangs done, because cutting bangs at home was the kind of thing frugal mothers did. But I couldn't force myself to cut them myself either, because I couldn't get away from the memories of being screamed at because my cowlick wouldn't lie straight. So I dithered.

And then one day, she cut her own hair. She cut the holy hell out of her own hair.

I laughed and laughed and laughed. To this day, whenever she tells me she needs her bangs cut, there’s an implicit threat to it. The stylists always look to me to tell them what to do with her hair, and I say, “It’s her hair. Ask her.” It makes me feel giddy and dangerous.

Here’s the thing about my mom, though. I found a copy of The Valley of the Horses and read it when I was maybe eleven or twelve. Mom either left it around or didn’t keep it hidden or didn’t take it away when she found out I had it. Thank God it wasn’t Clan of the Cave Bear. Anyway, it had a sex scene in it, and I read it, and she didn’t make me suffer for reading it.

Books became the one good thing I never had to suffer for, even when it was pretty obvious that Mom disagreed, start to finish, with what I was reading.

It was enough.

Now I see people trying to get books pulled out of libraries, huge arguments about how ebooks are never going to be the same as real books, articles shrieking about how bookstores are dying and how awful it is, even how some books are fundamentally better than others, and I remember those two books that changed my life, one by being allowed to read it, and the other by being destroyed.

And I go, “I must not be the only one messed up about books.”

But the preciousness and power of books were never about the books themselves. That readers think so seems to me...a kind of crack in the facade, a sign of damage. The best, strongest parts of books were in people the whole time--the writers who gave us the gifts of understanding and freedom, the people who let us read without making us feel ashamed, and even the people who taught us that, all in all...

...it was just a book.


About the Writer: DeAnna Knippling started freelancing in May 2011 and wouldn’t be able to do it without her wonderful family and friends, especially her husband. In fact, she owes a lot to Pikes Peak Writers for helping her be a better writer, especially through the Write Brains, both in the lectures and in meeting lots of other writers.

Her reason for writing is to entertain by celebrating her family’s tradition of dry yet merry wit, and to help ease the suffering of lack of self-confidence, having suffered it many years herself. She also likes to poke around and ask difficult questions, because she hates it when people assume something must be so.

For more kicks in the writerly pants, see her blog at www.deannaknippling.com or her ebook How to Fail & Keep on Writing, available at Smashwords, B&N, Amazon, and OmniLit.