June 2003

Katie Pannarale Fries

bookslut with baby

An introduction

I am a bookslut. Before I was a bookslut, I was a baby bookslut. I suppose that's what happens when both of your parents are English teachers. Not only did I attend my mother's junior high English classes while still in the womb, but both of my parents were reading to me before I was aware of what reading was. By the time I was two, I was leading my parents around the library and picking out Little Golden Books on our weekly trips to the drug store.

Hence, the seeds were planted for my growth into a full-fledged, card-carrying bookslut. As a kid, I much preferred the company of a good book to the games of tetherball and tag my peers played at recess. I remember meeting my first bookslut friend, Shahrzad, in the seventh grade. For the first time, I had a friend who understood what it meant to get lost in the world of a book. We would talk passionately about Anne of Green Gables and Gone With the Wind as though the inhabitants within those pages were close, personal friends.

Of course, given my passion for reading (and the passion for writing that grew out of this), I had no choice but to major in English in college. No, really. This came as a shock to just about nobody, as I have few other marketable skills. After college, I continued on the path that my parents had unknowingly set me upon 21 years earlier. I moved to Chicago, took a menial entry-level job in publishing, and began freelancing for local papers to satisfy my creative side. My job isn't my, or anybody's, dream job, but it does meet one of my goals: I get to work with books, and people who are as passionate about them as I am.

Now, though, I am about to embark on an entirely new phase of my life as a bookslut: motherhood.

I don't know if my parents knew what they were creating when they were reading to me and trying to make sure I didn't devour my weekly allotment of library books too quickly. They might not have known what they were creating, but I do. As I think about what I want for my child, I don't just have the typical parental hopes and dreams. Sure, I want a healthy baby, but I also want a child who loves to read.

Because reading is a skill that will enable my baby to succeed in other areas. Because reading engages the brain and encourages a healthy imagination in a way other forms of entertainment and recreation cannot. But more importantly, because I can't imagine what my childhood would have been like without having met Beezus and Ramona Quimby, Stuart Little, Laura and Mary Ingalls, Peter and Fudge Hatcher, Anne Shirley, and the children who populated the Narnia books (to name only a few). I know many considered my incessant reading to be boring or lonely, but the stories captured my imagination and made me believe I could one day become a writer myself. Being on such intimate terms with books allowed me to step out of my shell and discuss, with confidence and some degree of authority, something I knew a lot about. As a shy child and young adult, it pleased me to know a lot about something. I couldn't serve a volleyball to save my life, and I was not a great conversationalist in the midst of strangers, but I could talk intelligently and at length about books. Even with adults. It was a small confidence booster that brought recognition and helped me get where I am today. And although I know being a good parent is a skill that will come in time-it's definitely not as easy as raising a cat-I know I can start with the basics: sharing my love of reading, with my child, one of the most important gifts I can give him.

Over the next few months, I hope to chronicle my efforts to raise my own baby bookslut. As I embark on this journey, I plan to write about the steps I am taking to ensure my child gets a good literary start in life, my thoughts and feelings about current children's literature, my reflections on the books I read as a child I that am now revisiting as an adult, and even my own efforts to maintain my life as a reader while raising another.

Need another reason for wanting my child to be a bookslut? Because being a bookslut is far better than being a mathwhore.