The Joy of Reading, or,
What Reading Really Means to Me
When I was first asked to make this short speech, I was struck by the title “What Reading Means to Me.” My knee-jerk reaction was “What doesn’t reading mean to me?” As a professional librarian, I thought of all of our standard platitudes: “Reading is Life.” “Reading is Fundamental.” “There is no such thing as too many books.” I might easily have gone on and on along this vein, until I remembered that, for me, it hadn’t always been that way. Not by a long shot.
My approach to reading as a child was quite different than it is today. I can still remember clearly how scientific my approach was at the ripe old age of ten. “Dad,” I would say, “next time you’re at the library, get me a book for my book report.” I did give him some direction, however. “Remember, it should only be about this big…..it can’t be more than 100 pages…..and please, make sure it has lots of pictures.”
You can only imagine my reaction when he proudly walked in the door once with a copy of The Call of the Wild.
“Dad!” I screamed. “Dad! This is like, huge – OhmyGod – 221 pages??! And, there’s like, practically no pictures. Anywhere! I tooolldd you -”
“Dave,” he responded, only mildly irritated, “it’s Jack London! It’s a classic!”
I stared at him. All I could muster in response was “Daaaaddd!!”
Prior to this crisis, my only memories of going to the library were when we would drive my Grandmother there every Saturday afternoon when we took her on errands, right in between our stops at the bakery and the cobbler shop. I was thankful that my Gramma only read Westerns, since these were shelved in the coolest section of the library. There was a big overhang above the Westerns section, right underneath the stairs which led up to a balcony, and it was a great place to hide in the shadows and throw things or jump out at people. I definitely loved visiting the library in those days. My library career began at this same library, just as auspiciously as my reading career. It was Boy Scout Government Day, 1971, and all the young boys in our town were to be elected to political posts throughout the community. Naturally, there was great interest in running for Police Chief, or Fire Chief, or better yet, Principal of your own school, where you could have all manner of fun sitting in the school office and haranguing your friends who were stuck in class while you weren’t. I quickly read through the lists of positions for election and zeroed in on the one slot for which no one had signed up to run. “Library Director.” That was it. I knew what I was going to go for. I think in my selection essay, I wrote something like “I believe that libraries and books hold the future of mankind, and I would like to dedicate my life to them.” Basically, I wanted the day off from school. As soon as I found out I had won the election unopposed, I faced only one dilemma. Although the Boy Scouts had efficiently sent me all the paperwork I needed about running the library for a day, no one had actually told me where the library was. Lord knows I hadn’t memorized the route whenever we drove my Grandmother there. In the car, I was always too busy plotting new ways to harass my sister under the balcony stairs. Fortunately, for me and the Boy Scouts, my father came through again. While I did get through that one Boy Scout Government Day somewhat unscathed, I was amazed to be re-elected to this post the following year, again, unopposed. To make matters worse, the library actually had the nerve to offer me a paid part-time job in the library, shelving books as a student page. “Daaaddd!” was all I could say. “How do you get to the library again? I gotta go back this year, too.” Now, I mention these anecdotes for one very important reason, to illustrate that there is hope for all of us. For most of my life, I was what might today be called “Reading Challenged,” and, if...
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