Sunday, May 10, 2009

Reading – a Waste of Time or A Good Investment?

Debut Author Sherrie Hansen is my guest Over Coffee today. She is the proprietor of Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House, Queen Anne Victorian, in St. Ansgar, Iowa. Like the heroine in her novel, Night & Day, is an avid quilter.

There are those that don’t see reading as a gift. They see it as a tool and one reserved for either school or work. Reading for pleasure? A waste of time—unless you’re a child or old. Once you leave childhood, reading is a luxury. Outside of school, your time better spent on the business of life and work. Sherrie talks about her rediscovering the love of reading and how it’s shaped her writing.

Some of my earliest memories are of bedtime stories being read to me, and I loved to read books from the time I learned how. When I was in grade school and junior high I had special library privileges – because I had to jump on the school bus as soon as school was out. I was dismissed from class 5 or 10 minutes early each day so I could go to the library and pick out a book, which I would then read that night and return the next morning. On Sundays, I would check out several books from the church library. I read at least one book a day.

When I was little, my parents thought it was nice that I liked to read so much. They were proud that I was such an avid reader. But I was raised on a farm where everyone was expected to pitch in and help, and as I got older, what was perceived as cute became an irritation, especially to my Dad, who thought I should be working instead of “wasting time” reading. I took to reading late at night, sometimes in my bed, with a flashlight, half hidden under the covers, so my parents wouldn’t see the light. There are photos of me sitting at a picnic table or in the back seat of the car when we were on family vacations, reading, when according to my Mom and Dad, I should have been doing things with my family – hiking, swimming – the things “normal” kids do. When I tried to read, my sisters and brothers teased me. My parents yelled at me. Reading became a sore spot.

I stubbornly ignored them and kept reading… and writing. A poetry class and then, a creative writing teacher, inspired and encouraged me to write, to express myself. I was a straight A student, fueled as much by what I learned from the books I read as what I was taught in class.

But somewhere about the time I was a junior in high school, I started to accept the message that was repeated over and over again – at worst, that reading was a waste of time, at best, that reading was something people only did when they were too old to work and had nothing better to do with their time. I stopped reading for pleasure. My school courses became more demanding and required more reading, and I was involved in several extracurricular activities – choir, yearbook editor, 4-H, youth group at church – that required my attention and took a lot of time.

This was even more true in college. What free time I did have was spent talking with friends in my dorm. I started working and dating. I wrote reams of poetry while I was at Wheaton, exulting in first loves and new experiences, questioning, learning, growing up. But I read only what I had to.

I married after two years at Wheaton and moved to Germany. I continued my studies and wrote avidly – this time in the form of term papers and hundreds of hand-written letters to my parents, in-laws, Grandmas, and friends. But I didn’t read. I earned money and I worked. I gave up the fight and listened to the inner voice in my head that said I was being lazy when I sat down to read a book… that I should be working… that I should be doing something worthwhile, productive… if nothing else, seeing the sights and experiencing Europe.

It didn’t help that books written in English weren’t that readily available in Germany. No e-books back in the 70’s! But more importantly, my life was in crisis. My marriage was a mess, and I made a series of bad choices in the years that followed… choices that I was ashamed of, felt guilty about, and couldn’t talk… or write… about. I lost hope, felt depressed, eventually got divorced. I neither read nor wrote during this period. How can a person read stories with a happy ending when you are so cynical that you don’t believe in them? Writing seemed pointless. It didn’t solve anything, help anything, change anything.

I acquired a sarcastic wit as I fought my way back to emotional health and rebuilt my tattered financial status. I worked countless hours opening a business and eventually found both happiness and success. But I never opened a book.
It’s ironic now to think back on that time period — the fact that each of the rooms at my Bed and Breakfast is named after a book attests to the fact that I still had a passion for reading. The rooms are named after books I’d read as a child, The Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Secret Garden, and Sherwood Forest from Robin Hood. There are rooms from Sleeping Beauty, NeverNeverland A Wrinkle in Time, Heaven to Betsy, one of the Betsy – Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace… the books I’d loved as a child were the only books I knew, because I had stopped reading by the time I became an adult.

Then, a friend invited me to join her at Prince Edward Island for a week and a half. Her aunt and uncle owned a vacation house on the water, and had rented the one next door for us to stay. I arrived at the sleepy little island one summer day, and felt immediately at home. Plainly rural, yet beautifully scenic, it lives up to its Indian name, Abegweit, or land cradled by the waves.
I’d never been on a seaside vacation. My family camped, changing locations every night, seeing new sights every day, traveling hundreds of miles over the course of a week’s vacation. I was bored silly, or more accurately, fit to be tied, after 3 days.

My friend’s Aunt Doris was a reader. She handed me a book and told me to relax. I started Sandra Brown’s French Silk later that afternoon, sitting in an old lawn chair, overlooking the water. I had read six books by the time I left for home. She let me take another to read on the airplane. I had finished it by the time I reached New Jersey, and bought another at the airport to take me to Minneapolis. I haven’t stopped since.

I read everything Sandra Brown had ever written. I discovered Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jill Marie Landis, Dorothy Garlock, LaVyrle Spencer, Nora Roberts, Elizabeth Lowell, Debbie Macomber, Janet Evanovich, Linda Lael Miller, Pamela Morsi, Julie Garwood, Jennifer Crusie and more, devouring their books one by one. Bookshelves once filled with baskets and knick-knacks were now crammed with books.

A year after I visited Prince Edward Island and started reading again, I was inspired to write my first novel. I spent hundreds of dollars to fly to Colorado, rent a car, and attend a writing workshop led by Madelaine L’Engle. My employees, parents, and brothers and sisters all seemed to think I was wasting my time. Would writing pay off? It didn’t seem likely that I would ever get paid for the hours and hours I was spending in front of the computer, typing away.

This time, I again refused to listen. I kept reading… and writing. In my first published book, “Night and Day”, recently released by Second Wind Publishing, Jensen Marie Christiansen finds pure magic on Prince Edward Island, the place where I rediscovered my love of reading. Is it any surprise I chose this very special island to be the setting of Jensen’s dream come true?

Although my family has learned to accept my passion for books and writing, the entrepreneurial side of me is still bothered on some level that I may never net more than one or two cents an hour for the time and energy I’ve spent writing my books. But I have learned to be proud of my voice. I have learned that dreams really do come true. I have learned that I must write… and read. With every book I read, I am far richer than I was before.
By day, Sherrie Hansen operates a Victorian Bed & Breakfast and Tea House, The Blue Belle Inn. By night, she enjoys writing novels, blogging, quilting, playing the piano, renovating old houses and traveling. Sherrie and her husband live in Northern Iowa.
Night & Day is available for order through the Second Wind Website in ebook and paperback forms. Paperbacks are also available from Amazon and in Kindle format as well.


sherriehansen said...

Delighted to be here, but am not a coffee drinker. May I have a Diet Pepsi, please?

~Sia McKye~ said...

Sherrie, my friend, I'm glad to have you!

Sheesh,now I gotta add diet pepsi to my list in morning? lolol!

Ryan said...

Wonderful story. Sherrie, you remind me of my oldest daughter who always had a book in her hands. As a child I loved books more than I loved reading because I was so slow. I would reread dialogue, often reading it aloud, until I knew just what it "sounded" like. That can make for a SLOW read! I'm glad you persevered and wish you great success as an author.

Anonymous said...

When I was a kid, I also remember being accused of always having my "nose stuck in a book." Great article.
Norm Brown

sherriehansen said...

Thanks for stopping by, Ryan, aka Christine. :-) It's been very gratifying to have my first book so well received. The only bad part is that I'm suddenly so busy with extra activities that I'm not finding time to read or write... again. May is a very busy month at my B&B and Tea House, and we are short staffed right now. I'm hoping that when school gets out and I have a few more staff members, I can catch up on my TBR pile and get working on my next book!

Deborah J Ledford said...

What a great story, Sherrie. I began reading at a very young age as well. I can't imagine a world without words. Now, it is an honor and Privilege to write my own. I look forward to reading your "Night & Day."

Pat Bertram said...

Interesting how so many of us were discouraged from reading when young. Because of that, the only thing I ever wanted to do when I grew up was read, and I did. I had an argument with a friend the other day; she said there was no way I could have read 20,000 books. But the truth is, I'd work until I got a bit of money saved, then would quit so I could read full-time. Ah, mispent youth!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Sherrie, I was another kid that read by flashlight when I went to bed. I always had my nose in a book. When my dad confiscated my flashlight, I would crack the door to my bedroom and read by the the light from the hall, lol! My parents were both readers so we could read during the day, provided we had our chores done. The worse punishment my mom could give me was to commandiner my book. Oh, I hated that. lolol!

Sheila Deeth said...

Definitely coffee time...

My family used to tease me that when I died I'd still be asking "Please can I finish this chapter first." But I never stopped reading, and as a result I now read so fast my husband is convinced I never do anything else. I guess house and shopping and yard just do themselves by magic.

Mairead said...

I am lucky - my family encouraged my reading and it evolved into an outlet for me when things get rough. I have always had a book (or two) on my nightstand and reading a few pages every night is how I "reboot" my brain.

sherriehansen said...

Thanks to all of you for stopping by and sharing your experiences. It's good to know I wasn't the only one who had to fight for reading time.

I think the idea of punishing a child by taking away their book is classic, Sia. I'm surprised my mom never thought of that! It would have worked perfectly.

Mairead, I like the idea of "rebooting your brain." Great comparison!

Conda V. Douglas said...

Oh, your article twinged my heart. Unlike you, I had parents who loved to read and encouraged me to read everything all the time! How glorious that you've returned to the world of words!

Juliet Waldron said...

What a sad story, so eloquently expressed! If I couldn't have read, I probably wouldn't have survived my teens. That's the one thing my parents did encourage me to do, although it was mostly to insure I didn't ask for any other attention. I'm so glad you found your way back to just reading for fun. Best of all, your beautiful B&B shows that quite a few of your HEA has come true!

Amy De Trempe said...

Growing up my mother and sister always had a book with them. My father and brother did not. I struggled with reading as a child and I think that is why I didn't pick up a book in grade school unless required. I started reading for pleasure when I was sixteen. We were driving from Florida to Illinois and I was incredibly bored. I grabbed the romance novel my older sister had just finished, and have been addicted to reading since.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Conda, my parents encouraged reading too. There were times my dad would get rid of our TV and so crafts, games, and reading were the evenings pleasure. I preferred to read to most things, especially my chores, hence take away Sia's book, lol!

Amy, I like how those pesky romance novels trapped you into reading, lol!

Judi Fennell said...

Ah, how well I remember the, "get out of the hammock and go do something!" call from Mom.

She's hosting my first book signing June 6 :)

Yes, I feel vindicated.

But whether or not you earn more than a penny or two per hour of writing, you just can't stop writing. We get it.

sherilynwinrose said...

A world without books? Unfathomable.
I too was an avid reader at a child. My parents didn't say much, at least often.. because as mom would say, "At least I know where she is."

Reading was set aside only when my children were very small. I made up for lost time when they were old enough for me to read again.

Reading is learning and something learned is never a waste of time.

Congrats on the book and enjoy the ride!

Sherrie Super said...

Hey, I knew I liked you, Sherrie, and not just because you spell your name the "correct" way. Hah!

I enjoyed this article, and like others, I can really relate. I'm also a lone reader in a non-reading family. It can be a lonely place, that's for sure. I enjoyed hearing how you turned the challenges in your life into triumph. Bravo!

Kat Sheridan said...

Sherrie, what a wonderful article! Like you, reading was looked upon as a waste of time in my non-reading house. How wonderful that so many of us defy that edict and let the words carry us into new worlds and new lives. Congratulations on your book, and your B&B looks wonderful!

VA said...

Sherrie what a wonderful story in of itself. To find again that which you loved so much, and accept it. Never mind what others say, does it make your heart sing? Inspirational and your book sounds like a delightful retreat.

Best of luck with writing, sales, and everything else.

Wanda said...

Reading saved my life as a child and adolescent. If I couldn't have escaped into the fictional worlds from the horrible reality I lived I know I wouldn't have survived with my sanity intact. I heard the phrase "your nose in a book" constantly, never spoken pleasantly. Now I find the same snug coziness in writing although my reality is so wonderful I needn't escape. Now reading and writing provide a lovely accent to a wonderful life.

Your story provides inspiration and reassurance to those of us who read as regularly as we breath. Thank you.

Thank you Sia for bringing us another inspiring writer. You're the best!

jrafferty said...


Congratulations on re-discovering the joys of reading. As a child, I was a bookworm and read as much as I could. Ah for the days of reading a novel a day like I did as a teenager. Later, I did substitute teaching as a while and was teased as the "substitute who reads." Imagine that, actually reading a book in a junior high. Such as terrible example. That didn't stop me and I've continued my lifelong reading habit, albeit with less time to devote to it for the moment.

James Rafferty

~Sia McKye~ said...

I have to say, I loved reading all the comments. What nice experiences to read. Wanda, I hear you on the survival through reading.

James, you'd be surprised how many students will remember your reading books. Who knows whom you inspired. :-)

sherriehansen said...

Reading your comments has been a pleasure. I was obviously not the only misunderstood child in the world... although it sometimes felt like it. Did anyone else ever think they must be adopted? As a child, my love of reading was one of the things that convinced me that I couldn't possibly belong to a family that was so different than I was.

Fast forward 3 decades, and my parents are both very proud of my book. They've been very supportive of my efforts to publicize and promote "Night and Day", and I think they're even starting to realize that writing the book was hard work, too! (Even though you're sitting on your butt in a chair when you're doing it!) :-)

Helen Ginger said...

Congratulations on your success, from one book reader to another. Both my kids are avid readers - and my husband has become one, as well.

Straight From Hel

~Sia McKye~ said...

Rebecca Cisco at 9:27pm May 11

People act like there's some sin in being lazy sometimes. "I'm glad I'm not afraid to be lazy!"

readwriteandedit said...

Sherrie, I'm so sorry that you went so long without the joys of reading. I was one who read on family vacations and any time I could get my hands on books. At one time I held valid library cards for 4 different library systems!

Books are treasures. I hope no others have to give up such a delight due to misunderstandings with family and friends.

Other Lisa said...

So wonderful that you rediscovered reading! I was lucky; I have a reading family - the only time I was discouraged from reading was when I was supposed to be cleaning up my room or doing the dishes or some such thing.

Many congratulations on your book!

Margay said...

I would never consider reading a waste of time because even if you're reading for pleasure, you're performing a vital function - de-stressing. Reading is one of the best ways to unwind after a stressful day, but it also ignites the imagination, which is also vital to the psyche. When the imagination is ignited, we believe that we can achieve anything and there is nothing better than that. And even if it's a romance I'm reading, I always learn something new about a time, a place, an event. Reading is essential - it's also the best gift we can give to our children.