What was your favorite book as a child? Did it influence the person you are now?
Literature and reading was not the priority in the home of an alcoholic. Mom and Dad may have read to me a couple of times. I vaguely remember something like that. There were no bedtime stories or nighttime prayers; only a beer-breath kiss.
Reading was difficult for me as a child. Schools encouraged students to read fast and to read well out loud. Neither of those things I did well. As I became older (an adult) my reading skills became better while reading to myself. Yet, at times it is a struggle for me to read out loud. Sometimes I flow and other times I see the word, I know it, but I can’t get it beyond my lips. I feel like a stutterer, knowing what to say, but it’s not coming out. This affected my view of reading early on. I didn’t even like comic books.
Teachers saw this as an intellectual or academic impediment; except for one. I don’t remember her name. She was a substitute we had for only a couple of weeks.
I sat in the section of my fifth grade classroom marked “dummies.” Her first day she asked the class what the largest city in the United States is? I was the only one to raise my hand. “New York City,” I said. She then ask for the second. I responded, “Chicago.” She continued until tenth, which I was able to supply the answer to all of them.
She sent the class out to recess and ask me how I knew the cities. I told her I found the data in the World Almanac. I went on to tell her that baseball was considering expansion and only larger cities would be considered, that is what drove my curiosity.
She noted I was having trouble with fractions. “In double header if a player goes 3 for 8 what is his batting average?” she asked. I said .375. A light went off; in both of our heads. She marched me to the school library. She checked out the life story of Lou Gehrig for me. She told me to read it and as soon as I was finished give a book report to the class. The next day I handed her the book and told her I was ready.
I was twelve when that happened.
About three years later I picked a book out of a rack at a drug store, To Kill a Mockingbird. I read one paragraph and knew there was something magical about it. I knew that this book had to be read. I bought it and carried it with me until it was read.
I saw all people differently from that day forward. I saw myself differently. I saw the possibility of good literature changing a person’s thinking.
A copy of To Kill a Mockingbird rests in my personal library today. Every now and then I pick it up to try to recapture my feelings as a fifteen year old, the attraction, the burst of curiosity and awakening. I remember having it, but I just can’t quite get it back again.
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