Photo: Nebraska, July 2011. Writing: November 2011.
In a piece called “all about my mother,” author Jeanette Winterson tells the story of how a loveless upbringing led her to become a writer. She describes her mother as distrustful of books, a condition that lead to a stark void of reading materials in their home. There were six books in all, one of which included the Bible and two others that were commentaries on it.
I found myself drawing many parallels between her story and my own, including my own mother’s extreme displeasure with the joyful solitude I found in reading.
“All you ever do is read your god damned books! You think you’re better than us, don’t you?”
Beyond the collection I began to amass underneath my bed in high school, and not including copies of the Bible, we were a two book family. The biography of Margaret Trudeau and a battered horror novel were kept inside the storage compartment of a chunky, 70’s era coffee table. The biography was a holiday gift misfire from a relative. The origin of the other is unknown to me. I sometimes pulled them out in contemplation during times of curiosity or desperation, but I never did read either book. As for the Bible, my personal copy was the King James version, but we also had a second that included illustrations as well as a New International Version, both of which I considered pedestrian and beneath me.
We were an Evangelical home, although this does not tell the whole story. It does not explain the mind-bending contradictions or the raging hypocrisy. It doesn’t even explain my parents’ fervent push to indoctrinate me into a religion they didn’t participate in themselves. Through weekly trips to Sunday school, years of Bible club and camps, and the memorization of thousands of verses, they trained me to be a meek and subservient Lamb of God. It must have been a terrible surprise when I discarded it all, utilizing everything I had learned (from the Bible and otherwise) as my supporting evidence.
Books are trouble. Reading is dangerous. Writing is downright wicked.