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I was a peculiar child. Every Christmas season, instead of begging my parents for new dolls, princess tiaras, or a pony, I’d always write down “books” at the top of my Christmas list. To my eternal disappointment, every year my mother gave me stuff I needed: a new coat or shoes, a new dress for church, or the ever-dreaded socks. My mother doesn’t read for pleasure and never understood my fascination with words. “They’re not real,” she’d tell me when I told her about Captain Ahab’s white whale or Beth’s death in Little Women, “Why do you care so much?”
Twenty years later, that question still haunts me. Why do I care so much? Why do I cry for fictional characters? Why invest myself so much in a world that’s not real?
I blame my father.
I was seven-years-old the first time I read The Hobbit. Although my mother was unwilling to indulge my obsession for fiction, my father did. I had tossed aside The Chronicles of Narnia and The Little House on the Prairie series. I read things like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Three Musketeers, but at the age of 7 I didn’t understand them, nor did I want to. One Christmas, my father handed me a crudely wrapped present. “Don’t tell your mother,” he whispered.