I remember vividly the day I discovered reading. Prior to that day the concept of reading was an enigma to me. Why would I do this? Nobody seemed to have an answer to that question that I could understand. I suppose every little kid goes through this same thing when they finally commit try to read. I was about half way through 1st grade and my teacher was Miss Shultz. I had a hard time adapting to coming to school in the first place and I was always very reluctant to leave the safety net of my mom to into this classroom full of strangers. I was sullen, despondent and very quiet. I would sit in the back of the classroom and do a whole lot of thinking, mostly about how much danger I would be in if my parents never found me again.
Other kids would be running around the playground having a wonderful time playing tag or one of it’s many derivatives. I was watching the principal and his staff carefully just waiting for the ruse to be up. This was a concentration camp and at any moment these mad adults would pounce and press their advantage on us smaller people. Ok, maybe I was not that clear headed in my thinking, but I was definitely worried about this machine called “school” I had been introduced to. It probably did not help matters that a popular song on the radio at the time was “Welcome to the Machine” by Pink Floyd. I could not read, but I listened to what people said, very carefully.
So during recess, lunch, and after school, Miss Schultz would try to get me to read. I was suspicious of her desire to have me do this bit of indoctrination, but after a while she coaxed me into it. Pretty soon I was reading the easy books without much of a problem. I started to read anything that I could get my hands on. She told me that reading was a way of learning what other people were really thinking, and that was what got me hooked. I could discover all the secrets. I could find all the lies they buried in the library. So I started to read and my improvement was pretty rapid.
I remember when my father brought home a new novel by James A. Michener called “Chesapeake”. I think the novel was first published in 1978, so he probably brought it home sometime after that. Now that I think this through, it is interesting. My first real memories start to come in sharp right around the time I reached a high level of reading comprehension. I think that is significant. Your brain develops with the formulation of language, and you chisel that language into your brain with reading the written word. I daresay it is the think that makes humans who we are, the ability to craft, interpret, and decipher symbolic meaning and preserve ideas for the next generations. Anyway this book spans the time frame from the late 1500s to 1970s following a historical family and peoples in the Chesapeake bay region. From a pair of squabbling geese to the Watergate scandal, this book tracts through a significant formation of our countries history and often times reveals a more hidden part of U.S. History. I think I was learning early US history in 3rd grade, and I was half way through this book. My teacher was talking about George Washington and our forefathers. I was very proud to announce that they were great men true, but also drank a ton of whiskey, owned slaves and was top of the class when it came to lying, cheating, and swindling their fellow colonists out of the best opportunities.
My teacher was astonished and asked where I was getting all this information. I had a one word reply, “books.”
So from that time on, I loved reading. So much so that I would almost abandon learning from my teachers and become absorbed by what I was learning in the written word. I was reading and comprehending at a pretty high level in 4th through 6th grade. I would discover one day that not everything that I was reading was automatically true. In fact, I started learning that most ideas expressed by others are a varying shade of reality and it was up to be to decipher and intercept the bits that I would qualify as acceptable.
After I met my wife, I learned that she had a similar experience growing up. A love for reading as well. Instead of cuddly teddy bears, my wife would nestle books next to them as babies. Pretty soon she had them all devouring books as well. Reading, or transferring in our minds words to meaning, is probably the single greatest thing we can do for our own improvement and improvement in the lives of others.