If there was a soundtrack to my childhood, it was: “Leslie, put the book down.”
“Put the book down. It’s time to eat.”
“Put the book down. The light’s going; you’re going to ruin your eyes.”
“Put the book down. We have to go.”
Growing up in my small town in Virginia, I always had my nose in a book. I’d bring one to the dinner table and read until my parents made me stop. On car trips, I’d be in the back seat, holding pages up to the window to catch the last fading light before the sun went down. It wasn’t that my parents were against reading, but at a certain point it interfered with other activities—like eating, or getting ready for school, or going to sleep.
When I was in sixth grade, my teacher announced a class project. For every book we read, if we wrote a short report, we could add a segment to our individual bookworm that was tacked up on the bulletin board. Each kid started with only the worm’s head, labeled with his or her name. The segments were color-coded: black was for mystery, green for nature, red for adventure stories, and so on. At the end of the school year, our parents would be invited to view our projects.
Happily I set out writing a report for each book I read. I wasn’t competing against the other kids; I was pretty much in my own little world most of the time. But I did like watching my bookworm grow—it was even better than collecting Girl Scout badges.
Finally the big day arrived when parents could view our progress. I started to feel a little weird when they started filing in. To a person, each one took a look at the wall and gasped. Then their eyes went to me. I knew that I read more than the other kids, and I’d been teased a lot for being a bookworm. But until that moment, I hadn’t realized that my habit was unusual— freakish might be a better word. My worm extended all the way to the end of the wall, made the turn and continued down the next wall, and then turned again and started back on the third wall. It only stopped because the windows blocked the way.
As a teenager, I continued feeding my habit. I’d always loved lists, so when I came across 100 Books to Read before You Go to College, I was in seventh heaven. I made my way from All Quiet on the Western Front through Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
All of this is why, when my college advisor suggested that I consider going into book publishing after graduation, I knew that was the career for me. Thirty-plus years later, I still love being an editor. After all, where else can you read books as part of your job?
Hey, what was your favorite book growing up? Why did you love it, and how did it make you feel? Please comment or email me.
Leslie Wells is a book publishing professional who has edited 49 New York Times bestsellers. She is the author of Come Dancing, a novel set in New York City in the 1980s. Visit her at www.lesliewellsbooks.com.