I ask this question for a number of reasons. First, I want to encourage students to read. This semester there have been a few interesting pieces in the Mosaic reading book that profiled really special writers. The one about Farley Mowat's experience in Northern Canada was great and it gave them a little bit of Mowat’s world of wolves. Second, I want to encourage my children, and other children, to put down their devices and pick up a book. Amelia Bedelia or Pete the Cat is a different world, a better world. Pete the Cat makes life worth living because he is just so cool! Third, I’d like to inspire you, dear reader! Pick up that book that is beside you night stand or on your book shelf. You are not too tired to read. You have the time and energy to do it!
Why do I read? The answer has to do with my mother. When I was younger I remember her reading. She read Reader’s Digest and other magazines. She read novels and mysteries. I remember she had a copy of Ben-Hur that was very well worn.
I remember her going to bed at night with a novel in hand. I also remember that she would put that same novel on the book shelf in the morning because she had stayed up all night reading. I remember thinking, “Impossible!” but she did it over and over again. Then, I thought it was possible. I learned much later that she didn’t sleep well and reading was a quiet activity she could do at night without bothering anybody. (Thoughtfulness and reading!)
I also remember the beautiful book case that we had the basement. She kept many of her books there, out of the way, but a definite space and place existed for them.
I also remember that we watched To Kill a Mockingbird together. I was mesmerized by that film and she knew it. She asked if I wanted to read the book. I said yes and the world changed. I think I was fifteen when I started reading about Atticus Finch, Scout, Boo Radley, and others. I was caught up in this coming-of-age story of racism that had a moral to tell.
That really was my first book. I had read other novels, but To Kill A Mockingbird holds a special place in my heart as a great story. I remember thinking that I needed to follow it up with another grand epic. The next book was Cry, The Beloved Country. That was another epic story about racism in South Africa.
The point in all of this is not about learning the effects of racism, though I do consider that important. The point is I fell in love with the activity of reading. I was lost I Scout’s world. I wanted to know how the story ended more than I wanted to do anything else. My mother afforded me that pleasure.
She was always looking for a great book to read. She was the Modern Mrs. Darcy long before such a thing existed.
I also remember Gone with the Wind. And historical novels. Christian novels. Mysteries. She had multiple copies of Agatha Christie books. To this day, I keep copies of Agatha Christie books on my many book shelves.
I read because it was modelled for me. I read because I had a transformative experience. And I read because I had a grand, fun English teacher in high school.
Mr. Baltgailus was my English teacher for grade eleven. He gave students some options on what to read for English 20. He was tired of the emphasis on Shakespeare’s tragedies and said we could read A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
I read it and actually enjoyed the play on words. And then I read Hamlet.
I also remember the day he introduced us to a poem entitled “David”. It was a beautiful story of two young boys who went mountain climbing and the one has an accident on the way down. It was the first time I had heard of a mercy killing. Mr. Baltgailus grabbed my attention that day and I was swept away into another beautiful world of thought, short lines, and dense words.
I was completely and totally with him for the rest of his class. I also took German from him just to spend time in his amazing presence. He was ex-military, spoke five languages, and had opinions on everything. I was quiet but I was starting to come out my shell in his class!
I want to thank my mother for turning me into a reader and Mr. Baltgailus for being an opinionated and inspiring teacher. There are others but I will save them for another post.
My reading adventure/experience began at fifteen and it is more than thirty years later.
I am still reading.
And I still love it.
What is on your nightstand or book shelf? Did you have someone who inspired your reading life? Was there a transformative experience many years ago that fueled your reading? Did you have a great teacher? I would love to hear from you. Hit reply to this essay and let me know or post how it happened on Facebook.