It began innocently enough: a brand new copy of Goodnight Moon and parents patient enough to read it to me night after night after night. But Goodnight Moon was the gateway drug for many of my generation, and I soon turned to more hard-core reads, such as Pickle-Chiffon Pie and Little Rabbit’s Loose Tooth.
In elementary school, our librarian fed us a steady supply of Shel Silverstein and Beverly Cleary. Once a year R.I.F. spread shiny new paperbacks on the school library tables and fed my addiction with one free book. Many a child joined the leagues of reading addicts after those visits. I was in love — obsessed, even. Libraries, bookstores, Scholastic fliers — I couldn’t get enough.
In middle school, melodrama ruled the day, usually with a good dose of paranormal phenomena thrown in. Christopher Pike and Lois Duncan kept me company every evening. My school work began to suffer. I neglected my friends, my family. I begged for one more chapter, one more paragraph whenever the outside world demanded my attention.
By high school I had turned to stealing books from my parents’ shelves. I smuggled battered Harlequins, travelogues, and classics to school, getting my fix between every class. Until I earned my drivers’ license. Then any book in the public library was fair game.
In college I majored in English, and learned to hide my addiction. I took to carrying classics and slim volumes of poetry to literature classes filled with snobby students who looked down on genre fiction and, like me, pretended they did not read themselves to sleep each night with a good novel.
I’ve gone through other phases: young adult lit in grad school, mysteries after that. I found others who share my addiction. I no longer feel shame when I crack open a paperback in public and smell the fresh paper, admire the shiny cover, delve into each seductive story, because I now know that I am not alone.
For most of us, an addiction to reading is not picky. Suspense, historicals, science fiction, classics, contemporary literature — we’ll read it all. In the end, even cereal boxes and shampoo bottles are appealing if there’s nothing else. Because after a lifetime of addiction, a junkie can always find the next fix.
Caryn Caldwell has been crafting stories since childhood (when she regularly rescued her Barbies from imagined peril), through her teen years (when she wrote depressing poetry for fun), and into adulthood (when she discovered that writing books was more enjoyable than housework). She has been an English teacher, librarian, and white water rafting guide, and is currently a stay-at-home mom who writes books during her daughter’s nap times. She lives in the southwestern U.S. with her husband, daughter, and two cats, and is a member of SCBWI and RWA. Her books are represented by Erzsi Deàk of Hen & Ink Literary Studio.