Miss Young, my kindergarten teacher, chose Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary as our story time book on the first day of school. Ramona Quimby hooked me on reading and on finding adventure in the ordinary. I could not wait to read the book on my own and I felt great delight when I discovered that there was an entire series about the kids on Klickitat Street. Beezus, Henry and Ribsy, Ellen and Otis, and Runaway Ralph became my world.
I was so obsessed that I barely noticed the sideways glances or even the overt teasing from my peers as I checked Ramona Quimby Age 8 for the second or third time. I eventually moved on to…drum roll…Nancy Drew.
Nancy Drew was amazing as she boldly went through out New England solving crime, driving her boyfriend around and hanging out with her quintessentially butch cousin George. As I walked around reading every book in sequential order with my favorite girl detective, the teasing from school mates and the lectures from librarians, teachers, and my friends' parents was so overt that I felt forced to read the Hardy Boys too, since I discovered they were originally written by the same person thus giving a rationalization as to why I would read a book with a girl on the cover.
However, nothing would stop me from getting to book 64, which was the latest book in her series. Seriously, nothing could stop the centrifugal force of me getting from book 60 to book 64, not even my first Deer Hunting trip with my Dad and his friends. Nancy Drew did stop my having to participate in the annual Deer Hunt after I was discovered reading Nancy Drew and the Swami’s Ring instead of being the lookout for the herds of deer walking past me. My gratitude for Nancy and the shift she created in my life experience has never ebbed.
My reading was happily never curtailed by peers, grown ups or anyone that felt I should be reading something else or something more appropriate for boys. Today I still read across genres and look for strong characters—male, female, transgendered (read Real Man Adventures by T Cooper, a book that speaks of the trans experience from such an intimate, honest and humorous perspective.)
I am glad that I didn’t listen to “what I should be reading” as a boy, and I know I am a better man for having been able to read books that appealed to me, because they are well written with intriguing characters and not because of my gender.