Call Me Bookworm: Megan McDonald on Reading
I grew up reading—at the school library, on the Bookmobile, at the bookstore, at home next to the heater under the piano. I read my mother’s childhood books, torn-cover paperbacks, the books of my four older sisters, the beloved hardcover volume I got as a gift each Christmas. I still love the smell of books, the thrill of the page turn, and especially, deckled edges.
Someday I hope to write a book with deckled edges.
As a girl, I found pieces of myself in Ramona, Anne of Green Gables, Laura Ingalls, Jo March, Harriet the Spy, Jane Eyre.
By the time I got out of college, like any bright-eyed twenty-something, I was searching for myself. I had taken my share of psychology classes. Armed with my now-tattered volume of Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams and Reflections, I decided to take a personality test. The Myers-Briggs test. Back then, before the age of the internet, you had to find somebody to administer it.
I seem to remember quite a lot of questions about parties. It’s Friday night. Would you rather attend a party or stay home and read a book? Read a book!
At a party, do you get tired and leave early or are you the last one to leave? Leave early, so I can go home and read a book!
Would you rather spend time alone or host a dinner party?Spend time alone so I can read a book!
You get the idea. I had to wait a week for the results. When I returned to the testing center, I sat across from a thin-faced bespectacled woman in sensible shoes. I confess my palms were sweaty and my heart was pounding a bit. After all, I was about to discover who I was…
The woman looked over my scores, peered at me over her glasses, and said, “I don’t know what to tell you. You should have been a nun.”
Call me Bookworm.
We live in a world full of noise, a world full of sparkle and glitter, an extroverted world, and I had just discovered that I was literally off-the-charts—an introvert.
About this time, I had the great good fortune to meet the writer I most admire, the author of The Great Gilly Hopkins. Katherine Paterson likes to say she knew me back when I was “just a pup.” I cried over her books, I devoured her essays, I took every chance I could get to hear her speak in person.
Sitting in the dark of a hushed audience, something invisible, a slender thread, connected us. Katherine often spoke of being an introvert. She mentioned that many writers were introverts. This is not a new idea, but it’s the first time it took hold of me. I’m not sure any of us can point to the moment when we “became a writer” but that was certainly a defining moment for me.
It took me right back to another such moment. Only a week or two into my college experience, Eudora Welty came to campus to read. Here was another self-proclaimed introvert, by then white-haired and somewhat stooped, who did nothing but stand on a small stage and read, read aloud from her own work, and that one, still, fragile moment was life-changing.
“As you have seen, I am a writer who came of a sheltered life,” she told us, her readers. “A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.”
These days, I have only to close my eyes to go back to the chaos and noise of the third grade playground. But when the crowds of the cafeteria, the pushes and shoves of the playground got to be too much, guess where an introvert like me could always go to be at home?
A small, nearly-hidden dusty corner of the school—the library.
Call me Bookworm.
Reading saved me. Not only did the library provide quiet, a safe haven, it gave me a community. A community of young Emily Dickinsons and Charles Schulzes who loved books as much as I did. A librarian who had me feel a part of something by inviting me to stamp date-due cards and shelve books and create book displays.
And a wider community of fictional friends in books.
Reading made me unlonely.
You may not expect this of the writer who created Judy Moody. Judy Moody could have been a brushed-hair bookworm. She could have worn glasses. She could have had sensible shoes, rather than mismatched high-tops.
Yes, Judy Moody is exuberant. She bursts with energy and creativity and kooky ideas. But those qualities come from a rich inner life. She reads. She is trying to finish all 56 classic Nancy Drew books. She sleeps with the dictionary under her pillow. She needs time alone, perhaps to finger-knit her way out of a bad mood.
I created Judy Moody out of the universe of the introvert, but I wanted her to be able to meet the world. Katherine Paterson has said of being an introvert, “To fear is one thing. To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another.”
I wanted Judy to be flawed and fearless, in her own way.
For some of us, the call of the wild is the call of the book. I will be forever grateful that the school library and classroom library called me home.
Megan McDonald is the author responsible for the beloved series of Judy Moody, The Sisters Club, and American Girl books. You can find her site at www.meganmcdonald.com.