On Becoming a Reader – Part 1

I’m feeling nostalgic today and am in a peak reading mode.  Does that happen to you?  You may be a regular reader but then all of a sudden you get the surge to do more reading than usual—scheduling extra time to devour more books.  I guess I’m in that spot.  Maybe it’s also because I’m trying to make sure I stay on track for about 200 books this year.  I blame GoodReads.com.  You make it a game or give me quantative feedback and I’m a sucker.

Maybe it’s because I’m surrounded by bibliophiles whether it’s my academic friends and colleagues, my librarian friends, or just avid readers who I find solace with.  Books are just a central part of my life and I think back to why and how I got here.  After all, I grew up in the age of cable television and video games—both of which I indulged tremendously.  When people get dismayed with people that don’t read, I get it, but I also get why people don’t read, especially in this age.

However, books have been a major part of my life since a very young age.  Clearly, my parents (particularly, my father) had a huge role to play in it, but that doesn’t make it all.  After all, I’m an avid reader and my brother isn’t.  He tolerates books but generally, doesn’t take to them out of reading pleasure.  Same house; different outcomes (there are other reasons too, but no need to get into them).

The following are some of what I can only describe as my “book moments” or elements that contributed to becoming a “book person.”  In this post, I’ll cover the elements that I remember fondly and most likely contributed to me being a reader.  In the second post, I want to identify the books that were game-changers for me. They are not the only books that have left an impression, but they are the books that led me inevitably to be the reader I am today.

The Book Sale at Welch Elementary School.

I can still remember getting the small booklet of books to order when there would be a booksale at school.  I remember scanning through it to find out just what would be offered.  I think it’s a school book fair catalogue that first introduced me to Bruce Coville and one of my earliest favorite book series, My Teacher Is an Alien.  Besides that though, it was a moment during which I learned the literal value of books.  These books cost money and were therefore something important.  I had to pay (or get money from my parents usually) to get the books.  Interestingly, this is also where I started my fondness for comics.  By this point they were anthologizing the Garfield strips and I remember every time the bookstore came, those were some of the books I had to have.  It was also where I bought The Hobbit—but more about that in following post.

The Library.

The other day in a discussion with a librarian, I realized that I had been going to the Peabody Institute Library for some 25 years now.  Wow.  That says a lot.  I have lots of fond memories of hanging out at the library and yes, even getting kicked out for doing punk things (let me show you my mad skillz at chair surfing perfected at said library).  But I remember story time as a kid and I remember visiting it regularly and just spending hours perusing the books and finding new books, new information, new ideas.  I remember for large parts of middle and high school I went there regularly—just to enjoy and learn.  There was just so much at my finger tips and so many opportunities to get lost in a book, as they say.

An addendum to this is the Welch School library.  Smaller by comparison, I can still remember perusing it and getting to take home books.  I can also remember meeting the Mayor of Peabody (Mayor Torigian) there and being totally impressed that our class got to meet the Mayor.

Summer Reading.

Finally, there was summer reading.  No, not the summer reading required by schools.  That always felt forced rather than pleasurable.  But growing up, my father maintained a silent-sustained reading in the mornings before going to camp.  The rule was that he would make breakfast (usually something good like scrambled eggs) but we would have to read for a half hour to 45 minutes.  At times (of course), I resisted, but it was not often since the rule was we could read what we wanted, so long as we read.  Later on, between my junior and senior year of high school and once in college, I had life-guard gigs where the pools were minimum risk (5 feet deep in the deep end and often, no kids), so I would spend entire summers just reading.  I think my junior to senior year of high school, I read over 40 books ranging from 300 to 1000 pages each.

These events and places still sit with me in some way when I open a book.  There's a timelessness that connects me with those moments of my past whenever I crack open a book.  Its both a familiar home and a new place for me to explore.

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