“I do not read to think.
I do not read to learn.
I do not read to search for truth,
I know the truth,
The truth is hardly what I need.
I read to dream.
I read to live
In other people’s lives.
I read about the joys
The world
Dispenses to the fortunate,
And listen for the echoes.
I read to live,
To get away from life!”

These words, spoken by Fosca in Sondheim’s Passion, describe me perfectly. From the time that I learned to read at the age of three, books have provided a means of escape. I read picture books during the long car ride to daycare, and was allowed several books to read during nap time, since I rarely slept. My parents further encouraged this behavior in a number of ways: They limited the amount of “screen time” (TV and PC) my sister and I had to about one hour a week. I often saw them reading to relax. Bedtime was rarely negotiable, but lights-out could be delayed by the magic words, “I just have to finish this book” or, later, “I just have to finish the chapter!” Either they or my grandma took me to the library on a weekly basis; I was so excited to get my very own library card when I was six! The house had books, books, and more books, and I was never told that I couldn’t read something.

When I was six, Mom and I started reading the Little House books together. Every night, before bed, we’d read a chapter or two, alternating pages. It took some months, but we eventually finished the entire series. During that time, I was reading other things, as well. Not long after we had started the series, a schoolmate introduced me to Star Wars, and I became obsessed, reading everything that I could get my hands on about the movies.

At school, I frequently got in trouble for reading ahead. It wasn’t that I didn’t like what we read, but my classmates read so SLOWLY. My teachers were very used to seeing me bring in my own books, often things that would be considered well above grade-level. The school librarians noticed, too, resulting in my working in the school libraries from third grade to eighth grade. This proved to be a blessing for two reasons: One, I kept finding more and more good books to read. Two, as I got older, the libraries and books became a refuge from the teasing and bullying of my classmates.

Yes, as Fosca said, I read to live, to get away from my life. Building off of my love for Star Wars, Dad introduced me to the works of Robert A. Heinlein when I was nine, thus cementing my love for the genre of science fiction. In those pages, I could literally do anything, be anything. Books were a safe haven, a place where it didn’t matter what the kids around me were saying, a place where my own troubles disappeared. Not only that, books became my own way of learning how the world worked, and how amazing people could be. The worlds of my books were where I found acceptance of who and what I was, something that I desperately needed.

As I’ve gotten older, of course, things have gotten better. I no longer have to hide in my books from my peers, because I am no longer afraid to show the world who I am. Reading is still one of my favorite past times, however, because I still enjoy that feeling of escape, of freedom, of unquestioning acceptance.