October 19, 2015

Bricks in the Wall: Tamora Pierce and the dissonance of reading

My mom is a teacher. It's not just her job; it's what she IS, if that makes any sense. It's a key aspect of her identity. She teaches not just when she's in a classroom with students, but all the time. Even today, she teaches while she's playing with her grandchildren or when we're discussing relationships or what have you, long after her school day has actually ended.

For my mom, literacy isn't just a skill. It's THE skill. It's the key to unlocking any and every thing. If you are able to read and absorb information, you can learn anything.

Growing up, needless to say, we were encouraged to read. This was one area in which our mother took a marked stand against our fundamentalist church. No subject or book was truly off limits to us.

When I was four, I begged her for just one more chapter of The Hobbit every night. In second grade, she purchased me a journal and a copy of Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl. When I was ten or eleven--she brought Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone into our lives, reading it eagerly with my younger sisters (I held out for a long time, claiming it was a "baby book"...lo, how times change!) and eventually with me too, with all of us crowded around her on her bed. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of the times we spent reading together like that. Once, I was so engrossed in the story that I snuck Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban out of her room and read it, carefully placing it right back where I found it when I was done. You see, I was discouraged from reading ahead because I had a terrible time with spoilers... #OOPS. But I was so consumed by guilt that I actually left Mom a note on her pillow confessing my crime and apologizing. She still laughs about it today.

Books were a lifeblood in our home. Everyone was reading, all the time. Mom read Harlequin romance novels and professional development books. Dad seemed to always be nose deep in the Wheel of Time series. My younger sisters always had a series going--A Series of Unfortunate Events, Captain Underpants, etc. I loved the Thoroughbred series. There were books scattered all over the place, not to mention comics, newspapers, and magazines.

As I grew within the fundamentalist church that we were being raised in, the dissonance of my reading versus what I was being taught at home began to truly effect me.

I remember this most strongly when I remember reading Tamora Pierce's Wild Magic. I loved this story. I adored Daine and really related to her--I loved horses and all things equine, so I loved that she had a pony sidekick and worked with the Queen's Riders. Yet the concepts of magic and deities throughout the book bothered me so much that I have never finished reading the series.

Our church was the type of church that preached against Harry Potter. There were families in our church that closely controlled what their children read, banning some books outright. And while that didn't fly in our house--Mom would have thrown a fit--it was disconcerting to feel like there were truths I had to keep from my friends and their families. I couldn't always discuss what I was reading with them, and it made it feel like what I was doing was innately wrong, even if I didn't believe in witches or other gods or magic.

Eventually, this discomfort internalized to the point where I eschewed any reading material that was fantasy or science fiction related--not because I was forced to, but because it made me so uncomfortable to read. This lasted through my early adolescence, stretching into high school. It was my junior year before I finally thought to myself, "This guilt is bullshit," and went back to reading whatever I wanted, free of shame.

Looking back on that period of dissonance is hard for me now. I can't truly convey the depths that I felt that shame or how it impacted how I saw myself during that time. If I could go back in time, I think I would go back tell my younger self, "You're going to be okay. All of this religion stuff is bullshit anyway."

But in a way, it was useful too. Looking back, I can see how that dissonance made me really search myself and reach inside for answers instead of relying on what I was hearing in my church or from my friends' families. It made me confront the nature of belief and determine that yes, I can read and explore other viewpoints without adopting them myself. I can even understand other views without having to subscribe to them. All of this has been incredibly useful over the years as I've transitioned out of my former faith.

As for Tamora Pierce, last fall, I swallowed my adult pride and bought Wolf-Speaker, the next book in the Immortals series, for my Kindle. It was delightful, and I do intend to finish the series, a kind of tribute to my younger self and the ways she changed as she grew.

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