I remember exactly when my infatuation with books truly became a reality, and it was pretty much bribery!
I was just seven years old, living and attending school in Lynchburg TN. Up until now I didn’t really read that much at all, I also didn’t know what I was missing. More interested in playing with Lego’s, games, climbing trees, or barreling down a hill in my radio flyer wagon with my brother, I never thought about reading that much. My family didn’t really push it either, which is curious. Shouldn’t you want your kids to read? Hell, shouldn’t everyone want to read?!
Anyways, I was a little boy entirely caught up with being a boy and I had a tremendous amount of fun doing it!
Unbeknownst to me, my school had started this thing called ” The accelerated reading program” to get students more interested in reading. They could not know the fire it would eventually light for me, but we’ll get to that eventually..
Summer ended, and I was to be going on to the second grade. I wasn’t destined to stay any longer than the end of that school year, however, because we would eventually move away and I would never see the inside of a classroom in Lynchburg ever again.
My reading teacher informed us on the second full day of class about the program. Basically the gist was that any book with a colored dot on its spine was worth a certain amount of points. Points you receive from taking a test on that book, if you read it and can answer the questions.
I thought to myself Well, if this is for a grade, I’m getting a damn good one. It wasn’t for a grade it turns out, but the points could be collected and exchanged for a bunch of random items they had set up in the library. Things like, colored erasers, mechanical pencils, notebooks, paper, those really strange-looking gel binders, “grippers”, anything and everything that could be used at school, but with what looked like a “Nickelodeon” twist. They even had books you could choose from, too.
Now to my seven-year old mind, this just turned into a game. All of I have to do to get these shiny, squishy cool things, is read a book, and take its test and pass it for a certain number of points? Sign me up! Almost immediately, I wanted to read every book they had, but not because I loved to read, but because I loved a challenge. The fire was lit, and all they had to do was bribe me. In hindsight this is hilarious, bribery really does work.
So on the same day we were allowed to look through the books and pick out a few while we were there, but later we would have to go of our own accord when we had time. So in my mindset I picked a bunch of small books that I figured I could blow through and pass each of there tests in short order, thinking that it would be the fastest way to get the points. Well, it turned out that children’s books weren’t worth much whatsoever, and I was really just wasting my time. After burning through a dozen or so, I set my sights on the ‘orange’ labels, the advanced books. The first one I picked out was the Odyssey, and to this day it’s the one story I credit with my love of literature.
My teacher just looked at me like I was being silly, and she would have made me put it back if I didn’t stubbornly tell her that was still going to get it, and that she shouldn’t really be telling me not to read something. She relented though, and I was off on my merry way.
At first I realized I may have bitten off more than I could chew, I mean this book was enormous in comparison to the other books I normally read, but I was determined. And then I fell in love with it. I had never considered a book to be as entertaining as a game, or a movie might be, let alone more so! To me Odysseus became the all time B.A, the ultimate hero, and Homer my very first favorite author. His mix of martial prowess & wit, and how he put them to use amazed me. Unlike his other major counterpart, Achilles the invincible, he was a down to earth guy, who happened to be a bad-ass with sword and quill and hammer. He was also a good king, and a better father.
I aced the test in short order after the weekend, to the delight of a very surprised teacher. I told her I couldn’t stop reading it, that I loved every page, and if she could help me find more like it! The honest truth is that book was sorely needed at that point in my life, for reasons that continue today. But it was my first, and still the greatest.
After that it became very simple to me, I was still going to take the tests and get the rewards, but there wouldn’t be a week that went by that I didn’t read something. I had become addicted. I could go for another few thousand words on the books I read after, but that is an entirely different story.
So that’s how it began for me. A little bribery, a little bit of childish ambition, and then the realization that I adore books, and I didn’t even know it. Ever since then it became apparent to me that were I to ever become a parent, it would be the first thing I would try to teach my kids. It’s a superpower, completely able to transport you anywhere imaginable, to let you live in different shoes, do anything, and all for the cost of a library card. Which is totally free most of the time!
If you can give anyone anything, give them a book.