The Reading Contest
by Caroline Bock
Two reading prizes were going to be given out – one for a boy who read the most and one for the girl. And I was going to win Miss Murano’s contest. I was eight years old and in her third-grade class. Miss Murano, who always wore a skirt, stockings, high heels and black cats-eye glasses, was my hero; she liked books too. She didn’t tell me I’d go blind reading. She didn’t say that boys didn’t like girls who were smarter than them.
I read a book a day, sometimes two. I read until my eyes hurt, until I was sure that my grandmother was right: I would go blind. But it was June, nearly the end of the school year, so I read on, my head pounding, words bleary. I squinted at the blackboard. Miss Murano asked me if I ever had my eyes checked. I hadn’t. During recess, she brought me down to the school nurse, who had me read the eye chart. Through my right eye, the letters were clear, through my left, dimmer and blurrier.
A note was sent home. My grandmother intercepted it. “You don’t need glasses. You need to stop straining your eyes with books. Look what happened to your mother. She was always reading too.” She tore it up.
My mother wore glasses, so did my father. But my mother was gone from our lives, struck down by an aneurysm, alive in the nursing home, but not able to be a mother anymore, and my father was at work. My grandma returned to her home I’m sure satisfied that she had done the best for me by destroying that nurse’s note.
I read on. I brought home armloads of books from the Bookmobile and read with one eye opened, my right, and one closed deep into the night.
Somehow in the middle of all this reading, I drew closer to my mother. In desperation, to read more, I dug out her old books in the attic: collections of fairy tales and Greek myths complete with full-color lithographs, and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, which I would read a few years later, so I didn’t include it in Miss Murano’s reading log.
The books were inscribed with her maiden name: Louise Garofalo and held a fluid “L” and “G,” which I compared to my own raw, impatient scribble. I traced my finger over her cursive. On title pages, I breathed in her scent: lavender and cigarettes. I turned the silken pages which her hand turned. I poured myself into these books. Her voice, husky and musical, rang in the words. I fell asleep with the spines to my head. She wanted to be a writer, and I knew I wanted to be one too.
The last day of third grade, Miss Murano announced the winners: Kenny B. for the boys and me for the girls. We each won a pencil case that slid back and revealed a ruler and two new pencils inside.
Caroline Bock is the author of the critically-acclaimed young adult novel – LIE. Her debut novel has been called “unusual and important” in a starred Kirkus Review; “gripping” in a starred Library Journal review; “suspenseful and thought-provoking,” in a starred Booklist review and “smart … painfully believable” in a starred Publishers Weekly review. It’s available everywhere books/ebooks are sold from St. Martin’s Press. Read more about Caroline and her work on her website.
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