Reflecting on My Literary Autobiography Considering Potential “Hidden Subjects”

In this blog post, I will comment on my first blog post, my literary autobiography, and consider the cultural factors that could maybe be “hidden subjects.” I’ve made comments below each section using superscript numbers to reference each comment. This was a very interesting exercise. Before I got started, I didn’t think there were going to be a lot and I found 10. There are likely more that I’ve overlooked. Interestingly, I didn’t comment on the section where I describe the books that are important to me.

How did I start reading?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading, really. I can remember the first book I ever treasured. In preschool, our teacher gave each of the children a small, pocket-sized book1. My book was a copy of the fairy tale, The Three Billy Goats Gruff. I can’t recall the illustrator or publisher as, sadly, I no longer have this cherished childhood item. I do remember how proud I was of this book and how much I loved the story. I think my love of reading began before this; but, this is a pivotal moment in my literary history. In this same preschool, I also went to the public library2 and obtained my first library card. This memory is cemented in my brain. I could not believe that I could take home any book I wanted, as often as I wanted, for FREE! After getting my library card, I would beg my mother to bring us to the library as often as possible. I’m not sure at exactly what age I was permitted to start going by myself; but, once given this freedom3, I would ride my bike to the library, take out the maximum number of books allowed with a children’s library card, fill my bike basket, and return 2-3 weeks later for more. I remember the library made a special allowance for me to have an adult library card so there was no cap to the number of books I could take out and so that I could take out books from the young adult section before the age of 13. Reading was and is one of my greatest pleasures. My mom is a big reader4 as well and she allowed me (rightly or wrongly) to spend hours upon hours reading in the summer rather than playing outside. I remember getting Pizza Hut Book-it5 certificates for a free pan pizza for every 5 books I read and reading so many that I got certificates for my younger sisters as well. I also remember receiving the entire series of Sweet Valley Twins6 books as a Christmas gift one year and that being one of the greatest gifts I’d ever received. I’m quite nostalgic thinking about the joy that books/reading brought to me as a child.

1Print books were the only way of reading at the time. For children’s literature, I think, print is still a primary source of reading material. But, the lack of iPhones and iPads may have impacted my fascination with reading.

2The public library as an institution as changed a lot since the 1980s. Schools still take field trips, but the focus of my trip was purely to get a library card and introduce to the idea of using the library as a resource for books and the occasional movie. I think, today, I classroom field trip the library would cover a lot more ground.

3Two things strike me about this sentence. First, it is interesting to note that “stranger danger” was entering the conversation around child-rearing at this time. That is a hidden subject in this sentence. I was not allowed to ride my bike very far on my own and my mother had to be sure that I fully understood the potential dangers. Second, I rode my bike a lot as a kid. Bike riding is something that is very much a part of American childhood. Riding a bike is, for many children, the first taste of independence. Even within a limited radius, riding your bike is something you can do away from your parents’ eyes.

4Interestingly, my mother was a homemaker. After reading Rachel Aslop’s chapter on ethnographic methods, I now see a hidden subject in this statement. Reading was freedom for my mom, time to herself, away from her kids and maintaining the house. It offered her an escape. I know this because she has said this. I never once thought of her reading as an act of rebelling against what a domestic woman should do. Truthfully, I don’t think my mom thought of this in this way. She just thought of it as her own time; but, the act of knowing she deserved her own time is something that I think is specific to the 1980s.

5I know this program still exists because I saw their booth at the National Book Festival. However, I don’t think it is as pervasive as it was in the 80s and 90s. For one, Pizza Hut’s financial status has plummeted and they have closed a lot of their locations. Also, there’s been a focus on encouraging healthy eating in our children and Pizza Hut is not healthy. At this time in American history, Pizza Hut was a big deal. They held kids’ birthday parties and there as a Barbie that worked at Pizza Hut.

6The Sweet Valley series is a very specific late 20th-century reference. The book series represented a nuclear family of almost truly 2.7 children – 1 boy and twin girls (obviously 3 children, but interesting that 2 of the 3 were born at the same time. Both parents worked and this not questioned. And they lived in sunny California in an upper middle class-wealthy neighborhood (there were several characters that were very wealthy). This idea of American life was very much the norm for the 80s and into the 90s.   

What books have been important to me?

So many. As I mentioned above, as a kid, the Sweet Valley Twins series was very important to me. My childhood had some challenges, and books were my escape. Books I read as a child and in middle grade, were very important to me. Some of my favorites were:
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli – I grew up in Philadelphia (where this book takes place) and in a racially diverse neighborhood, so I was very drawn to this book.
The Giver by Lois Lowry may have been the first book to challenge my analytical muscles. The themes of this novel are relevant for anyone and that Lowry created this for young readers is extraordinary.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle is one of my favorite books. I had a paperback copy that I read so many times, I lost the front cover. I related to Meg more closely than any character I’d read before.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is, I think, my favorite novel. My first time reading it, I was too young and didn’t have any guidance. I read it on my own in seventh grade because my older cousin was reading it in high school and it was lost on me. I read it again junior year of high school and, with the help of my English teacher and the discussion with my peers, grew to love the story and even the verbose nature of Dickens’ writing. I read it again as an undergrad and it was then that I grew to appreciate the work as a true masterpiece. Miss Havisham is my most favorite literary character of all time.
I am also a huge fan of short stories. Some important pieces, for me, have been: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs, The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin (her novel, The Awakening, as well) and stories by Edgar Allan Poe.

Have I had struggles with reading?

7Yes. As I mentioned above, my first reading of Great Expectations was difficult. I didn’t have the patience for it and my brain hadn’t been adequately trained yet to understand syntax and to analyze the work. I also struggled with Shakespeare when I first read his works. I was also terrified of poetry at one point. I took a course with an amazingly patient professor as an undergraduate, who forced me to shake off my fears and would not allow me to say I “didn’t get it.”

7Something that is hidden here is a comment on my elementary and secondary schooling. It was not good. Great expectations should have been a part of the curriculum earlier in my academic career and I should have been introduced to poetry in a way that would not have required be to fear it in college.

What kinds of libraries have I used?

I have used public/free libraries, student reference libraries, online reference libraries, and the online free library, Overdrive.8

8The fact that Overdrive exists now is a hidden subject. Access to library resources without having to access the brick and mortar library is something unique to today.

What kinds of reading have I done for different kinds of projects / purposes?

I was an English major with minors in Psychology and Sociology as an undergrad. I read a ton of literature and critical responses to literature in a well-rounded curriculum9. I also read psychology textbooks and non-fiction sociological pieces. Post-college, my professional readings have largely been on advances in healthcare technology and, in the last 7-10 years, on policy changes10. This has largely been to keep me conversant in topics vital to my clients’ needs.

9A hidden subject here is 1) the liberal arts education and 2) Ben Franklin’s philosophy on education. I went to the University of Pennsylvania, which grew out of Franklin’s academy.

10A hidden subject here is the conversation around healthcare reform and the Affordable Care Act and, in general, American politics.

One thought on “Reflecting on My Literary Autobiography Considering Potential “Hidden Subjects””

  1. Very interesting, especially your use of footnotes! (Have you read Jasper fforde’s Thursday Next fantasy books? In one of the novels, there’s a “footnoter phone” where there’s additional dialogue/commentary in footnotes.
    I do think that Franklin’s innovation of a truly free public library turned into one of the great American gifts to the world. We have a remarkable ideology of public libraries that has been immeasurably valuable and made tremendous contributions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *