Zoe French, age 16
I wrote this piece as a response to the question, “What is an instance that shaped you as a reader?” I had been waiting to write this, so it was gratifying to see it on paper.
The Good, the Bad and the Oxford Comma
If I am being honest, I don’t remember how I learned to read. It must have been my ever-enthusiastic parents with their colorful children’s books. Or maybe a teacher with boundless energy. What I do remember is how reading became an unforgettable part of my identity.
My family are some of the most literate people I know. I grew up with words like “ecstatic,” “obfuscate” and “elucidate” as common, it seemed, as the air we breathed. The Oxford comma was as often a dinner-table discussion as was the never-ending torture of the question, “How was school?” This specific comma at the end of a list would later spark my incessant need to be a grammar freak. Letters, numbers and words stacked on top of each other to make an endless tower in my head, a dictionary that would be the base of knowledge for the rest of my life.
It is interesting, now that I think about it, to say that I can’t remember how something so important to me came to be. I can say, however, how I came to read so much. Just as a queen has her riches, I had my words. I had my own castle, my own small fortune, my own loyal subjects in the stories that I read. Books in our home were as common as lights on a wall. They were never-ending. And just how candy lures a child, I couldn’t resist trying them all. My room was a library, my backpack was a nook, my shelves a sea of words. And I stayed enamored in the world of words, greedily consuming page after page.
One book I will never forget is Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I mention this book not because it inspired me, but because it was devastating. I hated every second of reading that book. Every page was another tear shed for the goodness of humanity dying from the inky words written by the demented mind of a broken war veteran. Just as a good book can inspire a child to read for “happily ever after,” a bad book can break hearts until they have no sense of direction. Lord of the Flies was one of those books for me.
Just as my family loathed the Oxford comma, it seemed I had found my own nemesis. I hated how the story took away all the good in people, how these kids were left abandoned, and how the author made it seem that the only plausible response was death. But as horrible as the book is, and as much as I wish I could un-read the words on those pages, I am grateful for the new ideas it inspired. I believe all people are good inside. I believe that the world is held together by stronger bonds than crime and punishment. I believe the world runs on kindness and love. And I refuse to believe that all people are innately savages, kept at bay only by law and order. Even though it was the worst experience I have ever had with a book, I never stopped reading.
Maybe my love of reading started with a particular book. Maybe it started with many of them. Regardless, I can vividly remember which books made me cry (Walk Two Moons), which books made me scream (Jane Eyre) and which books I will never forget (Cinder). I love reading. The unbelievable torture of reading Lord of the Flies was not enough to break that love. And because I didn’t stop reading, more books continue to shape my values, my thoughts, my emotions and my will to persevere, regardless of what is thrown at me, even the Oxford comma. Although I may not remember how I learned to read, I will never forget the impact it has had on me.