One of my earliest reading memories is of my mother reading from Curious George. I was fascinated by this fictional monkey and his mischievous adventures. I’d sit up in bed, leaning nearly into the book as I followed along. As a toddler, I had many literary experiences. My father read to me from a collection of Irish Folktales, scaring me to death with tales of banshees and puka-monsters and evil leprechauns.
Perhaps the most intriguing memory that surfaced on my reading timeline doesn’t have to do with a book at all. When I was three or four, The Joshua Tree album was released by the Irish band, U2. My grandparents had a record player in the basement and every time we went to visit, I’d sit on top of the stairs demanding vehemently that someone put that U2 record on for me. I listened to Side A. Then Side B. Then Side A again. I listened closely and intently. The record was meaningful to me even though I probably didn’t comprehend the lyrics yet. I read the sounds and the silence in between tracks. I read the warm crackles of vinyl. I read the wrinkles on my grandmother’s loving hands as she pulled the record from its sleeve, unaware that she would pass away only one year later. I read the hint of brogue in Bono’s voice and thought of my own father’s brogue, but didn’t yet wonder what it meant to be Irish. It wasn’t until years later that my mother told me she went to a U2 concert while I was still in her womb. Perhaps I was rocking out, even before my birth, destined for a life of music and poetry.
Sometimes I still feel like that toddler, huddled up with his knees pressed into his chest, sitting on the top step of an old, familiar staircase, just listening for a familiar sound or a familiar voice. I still listen to records over and over again. I try to get to know a piece of music, a piece of literature, a poem. I listen for the silence in between the busy moments of my own life. It’s those moments when I stop to really “read” the world around me. It’s those moments when I notice deeply the experiences that have shaped me as a reader and writer of many different kinds of text.