Barbara Carroll Roberts


I grew up in California’s San­ta Clara Val­ley — long before it was called “Sil­i­con Val­ley.” Instead of high-tech com­pa­nies, apri­cot and cher­ry orchards sur­round­ed our neigh­bor­hood. My sis­ter and I loved hik­ing up into the foothills of the Coastal Moun­tain Range with our dog, spend­ing whole days explor­ing trails, inhal­ing the sharp scents of cean­oth­us and man­zani­ta, catch­ing blue-bel­lied lizards and garter snakes, chew­ing on the miner’s let­tuce and sour grass that grew along the banks of creeks.

We were an out­doors fam­i­ly. Camp­ing. Fish­ing. Horse­back rid­ing. Climb­ing trees — even our mom would climb up into trees with us.

But we were also a read­ing family.

Well, every­one except me.

Not because I didn’t like books. But because I was an active kid who didn’t like to sit still. And more than that, learn­ing to read was dif­fi­cult for me. Even after I mas­tered the let­ter sounds (and tried and tried to mem­o­rize all the “excep­tions to the rules”), I always read more slow­ly than my class­mates and was always embar­rassed about it. Being called on to read out loud in front of the class filled me with dread.

So while I loved hear­ing the sto­ries our par­ents read to my sis­ter and me, read­ing on my own was hard work. Def­i­nite­ly not some­thing I want­ed to do in my free time. All through my child­hood, I con­tin­ued to pre­fer run­ning around out­side to spend­ing time with a book.

But when I was in high school, I had a won­der­ful Eng­lish teacher who not only intro­duced our class to some tru­ly great books, he taught us to see the craft tech­niques the authors used, showed us how to “explore beyond the plot” to fig­ure out what a book was “about.”

Sud­den­ly, the world of lit­er­a­ture opened up for me. And even though I hadn’t yet got­ten over my embar­rass­ment at read­ing so slow­ly, I now real­ized that because of this “weak­ness,” I dis­cov­ered details in books — sparkling images, musi­cal lan­guage, hid­den themes — that my fast-read­ing class­mates skimmed past with­out noticing.

My weak­ness had become a strength.

In col­lege, I became an Eng­lish major, which meant I read and read and read.

And wrote. Essays and essays and essays. And I found out I was good at it. Good at writ­ing about books. Which made me want to write my own.

It took me a long time to achieve that goal. But along the way, I made my liv­ing as a writer for a big com­pa­ny in Sil­i­con Val­ley — writ­ing press releas­es and arti­cles and video scripts — then as a free­lance writer, work­ing for many dif­fer­ent companies.

But when I had my own chil­dren and began read­ing books to them, I real­ized that these were the kinds of books I want­ed to write.

Maybe because I still love lying down nose-to-nose with a lizard (though I don’t feel the need to catch them anymore).

Maybe because I remem­ber what it felt like — how embar­rass­ing it was — to be a “slow reader.”

Maybe because I still read slow­ly, savor­ing every word.

Barbara Carroll Roberts
Bar­bara Car­roll Roberts and com­pan­ion (pho­to: Craig Vitter)