by Kamala Nair
When I was a child, my parents made a rule that neither my sister nor I were allowed to watch television during the weekdays. At first we railed against their injustice. The thought of being the only kid at school who didn’t know what happened on yesterday’s episode of Saved by the Bell seemed unbearable. But when the realization that arguing was futile eventually sank in, I began to seek entertainment elsewhere.
I had always loved reading, but now that watching television after homework was no longer an option, books became an obsession, one my parents encouraged. Although I have remained a passionate reader into adulthood, nothing compares to the sense of magic and wonder of immersing myself in a story as a child. Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, The Secret Garden, Chronicles of Narnia. These are only a few of the works that captivated my imagination, books that made it easy to completely lose myself in another world to the point where I’d feel disoriented when I finally surfaced, eager to dive back in.
The television ban was lifted on weekends and during summer vacations, and I happily partook in Saturday morning cartoon time like most other kids. But watching stories unfold on a screen had lost some of its appeal, and I began to spend more time with my nose buried in a book. The pleasure of a cartoon or sitcom was fleeting, I discovered, whereas books stretched out over the course of days or weeks, and resonated in my heart long after the last word had been read. I often returned to my favorite stories, reading them over and over again until the pages were fragile and dog-eared.
We moved two times over the course of my childhood, first from upstate New York to Vermont, then from Vermont to Minnesota. We also spent three months living in Sweden when I was ten. During those years of shifting landscapes, people, and cultures, books became my one constant. We arrived in Rochester the summer before I started eighth grade, and I didn’t have a single friend. I remember checking out The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck from the library, and falling under its spell. I devoured it in a few short days, and returned for more. I ended up reading every book Buck had ever written over the course of those few months before school started, and even though it was a difficult period, having just said goodbye to the friends and life I had established back in Vermont, the joy of reading made that summer a surprisingly pleasant one.
My love of reading transitioned into a desire to write. From a very early age, I learned that writing was a wonderful source of entertainment. I could create my own world and make my characters do whatever I wanted. It was a heady feeling. As I grew older, I approached writing with a more serious attitude. In sixth grade I had a poem published in a small journal, and in eighth grade I won a statewide short story contest. These achievements encouraged me, and helped me realize that writing was something I might be able to pursue as a career. I wanted to make some kind of difference, and I decided the most valuable contribution I could make would be to add beauty to the world through literature. If I could bring as much joy to even a handful of people as the books I had read throughout my childhood had given to me, it would be enough.
My first novel, The Girl in the Garden, just hit shelves. I have no doubt that my love of reading is what inspired me to pursue the goal of writing a novel. I’m so grateful to my parents for encouraging us to read instead of spending hours in front of the television. If it hadn’t been for that rule, I might be living a very different life today.