Writing, Reading, and Smiling . . . It's Contagious.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Reading Away the Summer: My Childhood Obsession Foiled

“You have to do something besides READ your summer away!”

Ah, gee, Mom, do I hafta? This book’s really good!”


How many parents have had this conversation with their children? Probably too few and even fewer now since the domination of the Internet and video games. My poor mother had this talk with me at least twice a day from the end of May to the end of August during summer vacation. Though it never did further her cause to promote activities that involved closing a book, it did incite another closely related interest that continues to monopolize most of my time.

My mother was an avid reader and took my brother and me to the library once a week during summer vacation. For this reason she is partly to blame/congratulate for an obsession that has lasted longer than a summer occupied with reading Sherlock Holmes’ adventures beneath the covers by flashlight. Though she was delighted in my reading and did not wish to discourage it altogether, she tried desperately to pull the books from my hands for a few hours a day.

First, she made Dad put screens on the garage doors to make me go outside (I used bugs as an excuse to not leave the house). I took books with me to the makeshift porch and read them in the reclining lawn chair. I had found a way around her ploy.

Next, she bought a subscription to “Kids Kits,” huge white envelopes that came in the mail twice monthly. They were crammed with a plethora of scientific activities to encourage children to do something besides read. I remember one of the activities involved gluing together a model of the solar system. I made the poster with its pop-out planets in record time before racing to the library and checking out several Which Way adventure books that involved space travel. Poor Mom. Foiled again.

Remember Reading Rainbow? She made me turn on the TV, so that’s what I watched.

Despite her many failed attempts, I did eventually stop reading my summer away. One afternoon I was told “clean your room.” I shuffled old papers, dirty clothes, and dusty action figures, hoping she would think I had actually cleaned rather than relocated. As I was stuffing the relocated items into the musty closet, I found an old black leather case greying from age and dust. I pulled it out of the closet and opened it. There before me was an old manual typewriter. I didn’t pick up a book the rest of the summer. Instead, I wrote.

What does a seven-year-old write about? A log of daily activities, fiction about favorite characters from books, and short stories involving the latest escapades of action figures quickly filled all the typing paper I could find. As I grew older, these stories were traded for archaeological adventures with alternate endings and crime dramas filled with murder and mayhem. All were the immature ramblings of a child, but where would one be without childhood imaginings? Those seeds, no matter how insignificant, hone one’s skill and spawn worthy writing when one reaches adulthood.

Now, decades later, I sit here with Hal (my computer) on this cool summer afternoon writing a blog on the Internet. Though I’m not creating words on paper through the aid of chomping keys, dinging bells, and yellowing paper, I’m continuing a legacy that began through my mother’s concern over my welfare. If I listen closely I can hear her words drift into the room, fighting to be heard over a roaring airplane, “You have to do something besides WRITE your summer away!” My answer? “Ah, gee, Mom, do I hafta? This book’s really good!”


My List of Summer Activities

Last summer I was working on Dead Bird in the Weeds, a work of historical fiction about the 1798 rebellion in Ireland. It is now available at Sunflower Footsteps.

This summer I’m writing Haunted Voices from My Past: True Narratives of an Ohio Family. This work of creative nonfiction details my family’s experiences with the macabre.

To learn more about these and other titles, visit:

Visit Sunflower Footsteps


As always, I love to hear from you. If you’re in the cyber-neighbourhood, drop me a line.

In the meantime, keep writing, reading, and smiling. It’s contagious.


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