I began my reading career feeling inferior to those around me. From a young age I compared myself to those around me and concealed my insufficiencies, rather than working to improve them. In Kindergarten, I remember walking past the bookshelves in our classroom looking for a book to read at naptime. I knew that a “Reading Level 1” book would be just right for my abilities, but when I saw such a book on the shelf, I didn’t pick it up because I didn’t want everyone to know that I couldn’t read anything harder than a glorified picture book. It felt like all of my classmates were thriving, reading at a third grade level, while I lagged behind.
I stepped towards the “Reading Level 3” section of the bookshelf instead, and without much deliberation picked up “Amelia Bedelia,” a favorite of my best friend and idol, Cassandra. The next day at naptime, I saw Cassandra two mats over holding the same book, and a contented grin came over my face. I opened the book and attempted reading it, but it contained too many unfamiliar words I couldn’t understand. I gave up on trying to read the text and instead opted for looking at the illustrations instead. I knew that actually reading each page would take longer than looking at the pictures, so in order to make it look like I was actually able to read and comprehend the story, I counted in my head until an appropriate amount of time had passed to make it look authentic.
I was too embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t a good reader so I kept my lack of ability a secret to everyone around me. When we started keeping mandatory reading logs, I would embellish the amount of reading I had actually done, having already accepted that I would never be a quick or motivated enough reader to complete the required amount of reading. My animosity towards reading continued through all of middle school and into high school. I defined myself as destined to always be a slow reader and avoided the activity whenever I could. As soon as I fell behind on one reading assignment, my negative mindset convinced me it was impossible for me to catch up. After a while, attempting to catch up seemed pointless so I didn’t even bother trying anymore.
Despite my dislike of reading, I always loved creative writing, since it allowed me to unleash my inner dialogue onto a page. In sixth grade my humanities teacher introduced a “Two Minute Mystery” assignment, which I was immediately enthralled with. We had just begun reading Agatha Christie novels, and for the first time I was consumed by a book assigned for my English class. I was so enthralled by Christie’s mysteries that I read several more of her books that month. By the time it came to writing the mystery vernacular was ingrained in me. I still consider my short mystery as one of my best pieces of writing. Nevertheless, the short time we spent on the mystery unit wasn’t enough to make me become an active reader, and just a few months after we moved on to a new genre, I stopped reading Agatha Christie.
In the spring of my Junior year I attended the Mountain School, where the majority of my friends always found time for their own personal reading in our busy schedule. I was repeatedly reminded by the books in my peers’ hands that I was the only one not reading and expanding my knowledge and vocabulary. In order to feel better, I decided to attempt reading for pleasure too. I read two books and for over a year I thought I was inspired by the intelligence of my peers to get back into reading. However when analyzing my path as a reader in this class I realized that I felt obligated to conform to what everyone else was doing, and that I was only motivated by the desire to be viewed as an intellectual. I initially wrote an idealistic story, exaggerating my newfound appreciation for reading, about how I learned to love reading because I thought that was the only way to be seen as an intellectual; however, when I was told it was okay never to have come around to reading, I was able to admit that reading still isn’t one of my favorite pastimes.
Right: My Image, taken by my father Kent Wallgren, c. 2006 (Kindergarten)
Left: My Image, taken by my father Kent Wallgren, c. 2007 (First Grade)