a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Monday, September 23, 2013

Writer passes down her grandmother's love of printed words

John Irving's "The World According to Garp" was a life-changer for this Pittsburgh-area journalist.

Books are uniquely portable magic.” - Stephen King

By Amanda Gillooly

My grandmother was particularly proud of her vocabulary.

She often said that while her Depression-era childhood didn't afford her an opportunity to even finish grade school, those circumstances never stopped her from getting an education.
Peg Crowe cuddles Amanda Gillooly

No, Peg Crowe was a lifelong learner – and her teacher of choice was literature.

Gram was the type of woman who kept a Woman's Day magazine on the dining room table and a Louis L'Amour book on her bed stand.

She was never, it seemed, without a book.

“There's always something to learn,” she would tell me. “Read. Read anything.”

Although she never forgot a birthday or holiday, the best gift she ever gave me was a love for reading.

I received the gift of sorts when she found out that my second-grade teacher had placed me in a remedial reading course.

After that, it was on.

Trips to the grocery store became scavenger hunts for words on labels.

I will always remember the Kmart in Moon Township as the first book store I came to know – every weekend she would pick up a L'Amour book and allow me to pick out one to read as well.

And for an hour each night before bed on the weekends we would read.

By the second half of the year, I was no longer a sub-par reader and had been placed in a class with other kids with “normal” skills.

By the time I was in third grade, I was in the advanced reading class.

I eventually grew out of the R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike novels and moved my way into more adult books.

“The Long Walk” by Richard Bauchman and “The World According to Garp” by John Irving were life-changing experiences for me – and were a form of solace during pre-teen years living with a troubled parent in rundown, roach-infested apartments.

To this day I pack too many books on vacation, I have too many piled on my coffee table and I admit I push especially good reads on anyone who isn't familiar with them.

There are several books (think “A Prayer for Owen Meany” and “Different Seasons”) that I seek out in used book stores just so I can give them away to friends who have never read them.

Alas: I've become a book pusher, just like my grandmother.

Just ask my nephew, Nicholas.

At almost 10, he likes to describe himself as a “gamer.”

Hopefully, by the time I'm done with him, he'll change that to “reader.”

Nicholas is in third grade—and much smarter than I ever hoped to be at that age.

His reading and comprehension are just fine (there's nothing remedial about Nicholas), but it bugs the hell out of me that he thinks of reading as a chore, as something you do when you CAN'T play video games.

I want him to seek books out. I want him to have the experience of waiting in anticipation for his favorite author's new book release, and know how it feels to finally check out the cover art on the way home from the store.

At 33, I still do that (In fact, tomorrow marks the release date for Stephen King's new novel, “Dr. Sleep” (a sequel of sorts to “The Shining”).

I am happy to say that Nicholas is getting there.

A few weeks ago, I needed to stop at the venerable Kmart to see if the book section had the second installment of a popular new series I am pretty much addicted to.

While I scanned the titles, I noticed Nicholas pick up a book nearby and read the blurb on the back.

Within a few minutes, he walked up to me and said, “Aunt Mandy, look, they have that book you were telling me about, 'The Lightening Thief.'”

I know a chance when I see one, and I know better than to let one pass me by.

So I said:

“Cool! Here, I'll buy it for you. After you're done reading it, you can give it to me and I will read it, too. Then I will buy you the second one.”

When I visited yesterday, he told me he was more than halfway done with the books.

And he likes it.

Peg Crowe would be proud.

Amanda Gillooly is a Pittsburgh-area freelance writer. The former editor of the Canon-McMillan Patch, Gillooly has also worked as a reporter with the Observer-Reporter, the Beaver County Times, the Valley Independent and the Innocence Institute of Point Park University. Her work has also been seen in the Tribune Review and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

No comments: