The carpet left indentations in our elbows and the heavy humidity of May hung over us in the old classroom. We sat on the floor and read. Little beads of sweat formed on our brows as we whipped our eyes from word to word, failing to glean any meaning. “Done,” she would say to me with a smirk on her face, and her eyebrows raised, knowing that I hadn’t finished.
By first grade, I had already learned my letters and phonics. However,“…look, Jane. Dick is running. See Dick run…” was not my idea of an interesting story. Boredom ensued. But I did like stories. I liked real stories, like Harry Potter. The fantasy of a different life amazed me. I was easily immersed in that other world, and craved the new emotions it could bring.
My friend Beth and I decided to read a Junie B. Jones book together. During break-time, we would sprawl out on the floor, side by side, and flip through the pages, reading a chapter each day. Beth and I scanned the words in our heads, letting the other know when we had finished and it was time to flip the page.
Beth was extremely competitive. I was not. We read at the same pace. She turned the pages with haste, sighing sarcastically if I didn’t finish in time. She whistled while she waited for me to finish. This made me so mad. Soon, I began to finish the page faster than my friend, so she started reading faster, then I read faster, then she read even faster. The race was on.
As we got farther and farther into the story, it became the ultimate speed-reading competition. Quicker. My eyes twitched through the chapters. Accelerating. My body completely tensed with focus. We read and read, and soon were half way through the book; the only problem was that as I "read" faster, the words completely lost their meaning.
The Junie B. Jones book was mine from home, and once I realized I had skimmed through the story, curiosity invaded; I wanted to be the best, but I also wanted to read the story. Though Junie B. didn't have as interesting a life as Harry Potter, I loved her ridiculous stories of high jinx and lessons learned. I decided that I would start to read a chapter ahead each night, so I would not get lost the next day. I would read the same page over twice so that I might retain the story. And I practiced reading faster so that I might be the best.
Beth was ruthless. She turned the pages seconds after opening to them. Velocity increased. She moved so fast and with such intensity, my book started to rip at the edges and crinkle where her fingers held it with a viselike grip. If I missed a page, or if we went an extra chapter that day, I would look back that night.
We were on our fourth or fifth Junie B. book, and I whipped it out right as our teacher called for break-time. We started reading, and by this point, I was retaining most of what was going on. I didn’t skim. I didn’t skip. I didn’t stop. I was overwhelmed with pride as I read the final page. My head hurt and my heart pounded. I had pushed myself to my reading limit, and crossed a new line. I even told my teacher the plot of the book when she came to ask how we were doing. And Beth couldn't even begin to tell her. Had I won? Maybe. In my exhaustion, I closed my eyes and spread my arms. I heard Beth mutter, “Fine, I’ll just go read on my own.” And then I started the next book in the series.