A process by which molecules of a solvent tend to pass through a semipermeable membrane

Writing came to me by osmosis, at first.

I never felt as though I had to learn it, same as I never felt I had to learn how to read. Reading was sitting in church with the bulletin in my hand, sure that I understood the indecipherable black print on the page because I knew exactly what was coming next. I’d heard the services so often I’d mouth the pastor’s part along with my father, sitting in my mother’s lap as she pointed at each line. I may not have known how to read, but I knew exactly what was written. It struck me as only natural that I would one day break the barrier between the two.

To learn to read was something I assumed I was already doing, and writing was a closely related family member.  The two seemed to me inseparable partners – once you were familiar with one, you were inextricably familiar with the other. No one ever told me I was going to have to learn. Reading was a fact of life, like green grass, Church on Sundays, and dusting the dining room chairs on Saturday morning. Like my brother and sister before me, it would quite obviously come to me of its own accord. Kindergarten rolled around and I filled out dotted-line worksheet after worksheet, vaguely aware that I should try to learn the letters I was tracing.

By the end of the year, I didn’t know my alphabet.

The week before 1st grade started I panicked. Years later my parents explained in some amusement their exasperation at my kindergarten teacher for dropping the little remark oh-by-the-way-Andrea-still-doesn’t-know-her-alphabet at the very last parent-teacher conference of the year. They spent the summer catching me up on the lessons I’d apparently ignored. Some of that must have finally sunk in the few days before “real school” (as I thought of all-day school), and I was suddenly certainly and terribly afraid that I would never learn how to write. It was the first and last time Mom and Dad ever bought me a present for the new school year. The small stuffed animal soothed me into sleep that night before 1st grade started, and it only seems remarkable to me now how parents seem to intrinsically know how to read their children.

By 3pm, I was no longer afraid – having discovered that my teacher did not expect me to figure out how to read or write after one day in her class.

As soon as I learned how to string a sentence together, I wrote a short story simply titled “Andrea book,” with a picture of a cat on a mat crayoned across the front.  Once opened, the book revealed the situation: cat and dog. dog is soft. dog slid. cat is ill. dog is sad. cat is glad. It was the first and least cohesive tale in the series of unrelated books I wrote and illustrated over the year.

But just like that, writing had revealed itself to me: a magical vehicle, a creature that can tell the stories in my head. Writing leads to reading, and reading is a window into adventure; into another’s heart and mind; into the kind of fantasies we dream about as children and quietly let go into adulthood. I will never save the world. I will likely never save someone’s life. The dangers I face will be both more dull and more heartbreaking – sickness, dementia, the petty arguments that can drive a wedge into what you had once thought was a rock-strong relationship, loneliness, the fear that your dreams (as little as they may seem) will never be realized. Reading is for the impossible. This is where I slay dragons.

Looking back, my parents were probably relieved when I brought “Andrea book” to them and showed them that the soft dog slid.

And Andrea? Well, once the cat got over her illness and the dog cheered up, Andrea was glad.

I looked up “highfalutin” and discovered it was a real word

I found this book meme, and because I’ve run out of homework assignments from my memoir class to post, I decided to use it as a guide for today’s update. I really need to get back on a more consistent schedule. Ah well. I’ll get you next time, Inspector Gadget.

Name three of your favorite books and tell us a bit about them.

  1. “Ella Enchanted.” An enormously entertaining take on the story of Cinderella. Ella’s voice makes me laugh every time I read it. And I’m still a little in love with Prince Char.
  2. “To Kill a Mockingbird.” For obvious reasons, and not so obvious ones. Boo Radley sitting quietly in the dark at the end, Jem and Scout’s very real sibling relationship, stupid plans that go awry, and fathers who know – or at least suspect – more than their children want them to know. It’s an absurdly authentic book, never mind that I hate literature class power-words. Authentic.
  3. “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.” A story about secrets within a story about what a mild-mannered mother mouse will do for her children. Oh, and secret labs, near-death experiences, and brilliant rats. I’ve loved this since the first time I read it.
  4. Special mention for “Harry Potter,” “Lord of the Rings,” and a hundred other enormously popular series that everyone and their mom likes. I don’t have particularly refined taste, though I do love a good Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer if long-dead romance authors gives me more class. Oh, and why not tag “Lord of the Flies” on the end of this list; a literary demonstration of original sin, brilliantly and chillingly told.

Name three of your least favorite books.

  1. That one I had to read for class. I can’t remember the name and I wouldn’t tell you if I did. It was a very foul read, full of people being nasty to one another, each giving and taking ugliness in their turn.
  2. That other one I had to read for class. I can’t remember the name of this one either, but the use of first person was poorly done. That may have been a translation problem (it began life somewhere in Europe), but it couldn’t have entirely. The author resorted to cheap tricks to hide what the entire novel was about until the end, which was that some guy wasted his entire life because he had abandonment issues. Boo hoo.
  3. An awful post-apocalyptic pile of garbage that I wasted a couple of hours on a few years ago. Didn’t bother remembering the name of this one either (it involved unlikeable characters acting unlikeably), but I was so irritated by the end of it that I wanted to throw it across the room. As I was in the library at the time, this was neither feasible nor ethical – the book wasn’t mine.
  4. Special mention for Dickens, who haunted my school years like the ghost of homework past. The plot happens to his main characters, who helplessly waft from scene to scene being unaccountably good while the more interesting characters threaten to corrupt them. There are things that I do like about Dickens, but the thickness of his prose could stop an elephant gun at point-blank range.

Name some books you’ve loved since childhood.

  1. “I Can Read with My Eyes Shut.” The first book I remember receiving as my own, my precious. I definitely tried to read it with my eyes shut. And then realized that squinting was cheating and gave it up as impossible.
  2. Just about any picture book by Bill Peet. I can still see that ram skiing on his own horns, and the pig with the picture of the world on his side, and a hundred other images. The stories themselves have stuck with me for years. Many of them – the ones that I remember – were basically about finding your place in a world that didn’t want you.
  3. “The Secret Garden.” It hit that piece of me that loves secret places. The book made me feel the same way that looking at stars does – that someday I too might explore the unknown. The long-forgotten.
  4. The Alanna series makes me think of my sister, who read it at least once a year for ten years running.
  5. And finally, the Star Wars extended universe; I raided my brother’s closet for these, who let me so long as I didn’t open the book far enough to ruin the binding. He was very protective of his books, but he let me have at them anyways, even though a number of them came back with creases down the spine.

Name a book that disappointed you.

  • This is a tough one, but I’ll go ahead and pull out Harper Lee’s second book. I got a few pages in, where she happened to mention oh by the way, Jem died from a brain aneurism, and that was about as much disappointment as I could take for the year. Regardless of how well it was written, so I make no judgments there, not having finished it. It’s like watching Star Wars episode 7 and realizing that Han, Luke, and Leia spent the last thirty years making poor life choices. I know George Lucas swept aside the extended universe with a wave of his almighty hand, but as far as I’m concerned anything written by Timothy Zahn is canon. (But none of that Yuuzhan Vong garbage, because the entire cringing chorus of authors who contributed to that disappointing string of adventures forgot that Star Wars is supposed to be about the good guys getting into dire circumstances and then busting out of it like the immortal heroes they were.)

Name a book that surprised you.

  • “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.” I was in seventh grade and my friend made me promise not to read the description – not even look at the pictures on the cover, she insisted – and so when Hagrid declared to Harry that he was a wizard, I was as shocked and thrilled as he. Follow that up with my favorite chapter break of all time:
    • It wasn’t Voldemort. It wasn’t even Snape.
    • It was Quirrell.
    • (I’m not easily tricked by books, but I was so deep in Harry’s perspective that Quirrell had never crossed my mind as a suspect – but not because there weren’t clues. There were beautifully obvious ones that JK Rowling convinced me supported another conclusion.)
  • Also, I realize that that wasn’t precisely what this particular meme question was looking for, so I’ll throw a shout-out to my homey, Bill Shakespeare. For about ten years I hated Shakespeare, and when you’re fifteen that means you’ve hated him forever. The only story I knew was Romeo and Juliet, which is about the most ridiculous pile of clap-trap I’ve had the misfortune to read. The only thing I liked about that play was Mercutio raging on for about five pages, using his last few breaths, not to pass on any deathbed messages to his loved ones, but to tell Romeo what an idiot he is. THANK YOU. Somebody had to say it. As far as I’m concerned, the two lovers got what was coming to them and the Montagues and Capulets should’ve been relieved to be rid of them.
  • But then high school rolled around and I had an English teacher who told my class that Shakespeare was meant to be watched, not read. She started us off with watching “Twelfth Night” rather than reading it. Suddenly I understood how to visualize a Shakespearian play, which made the highfalutin language make sense. And I also discovered that Romeo and Juliet really was a hack-job compared to the rest of his stuff. His comedies were actually clever and the rest epically tragic. Ah, Macbeth, I have a soft spot in my heart for you where you convinced me that Romeo wasn’t as good as Bill got.

Name a favorite graphic novel/comic/manga.

  • Full Metal Alchemist, hands down. We’re talking serious political ramifications, likeable but flawed characters watching out for one another, and a well-developed scientific/magic system that fit in with the world both historically and politically.

Name a favorite non-fiction book

  • “In the Garden of Beasts.” Erik Larson is best known for “Devil in the White City” about a deranged serial killer who operated in Chicago during the time of the World’s Fair, but “In the Garden of Beasts” (set in Berlin during the 30s) is my favorite, probably because of – again – politics. The entire city changed its face and feel in an unbelievably short period of time, and absolutely no one believed the American ambassador when he insisted this was happening whether the United States liked it or not. And they didn’t like it. The ambassador was sent home in disgrace, and lived just long enough to be vindicated. Larson has a fair-minded approach to the way he tells the stories of real people, which is not to bias you one way or the other (to try and make heroes or villains of any person or situation), but to simply present the facts of a person’s actions in the context of the times.

Name a favorite poetry book.

  • Does Dr. Suess count? Let’s say Dr. Seuss counts. Marvin K. Mooney WILL YOU PLEASE GO NOW!

Name a book you’d like to see made into a movie.

  • I want to see Harry Potter made into a cartoon. Twenty to twenty-five minute episodes and just nail the whole series. The relationships, all the humor and cleverness and wizard fights (that involved a whole lot more than two people pointing their wands at each other and just standing there) that couldn’t fit into the movies.
  • Ella Enchanted. Because the version they came out with doesn’t count. I cringed when I watched the previews and I haven’t dared touch it since, with or without a ten foot pole.

What are you reading now?

  • I just read nine Orson Scott Card books in the space of four days. If all of my characters suddenly transform into brilliant children with a penchant for philosophical and/or political discourse, you know why.