Like everyone, I go through phases where I don’t read a ton of books. Those are the days when time seems to never actually slow down any so that you can actually enjoy things. Where you have those quiet moments to lose yourself within the pages of a book to a short or whatever. My bookshelf beckons me. My Kindle mocks me with all the unread titles that I still continue to buy because “I’ll get around to them at some point”. Even my Amazon Private List has thirty or forty books that I managed to have the willpower to not actually buy at the moment but still intrigued me enough to want to flag.
It’s normally those forced days of doing nothing where I manage to come back to the love of the page. Vacations being the biggest thing to spur me back into the mode so that I can really dwell in the words of someone else. Where I can feel the character’s voice in my head, hearing it almost before I read the words. When you look up and two hours have passed and the only thing you know in that moment is you need to get back to the story. Because to not dive right back in would be nearly a sin against your very being.
There have been books that have spurred me on to continue reading more and more. As much as I could get my hands on. But there was a dark time before I really read for pleasure, and while the novel is one of my favorites, it was a forced read of sorts.
The Call of the Wild – Jack London
You see, the only reason I ever read this book was that I was grounded. Suffice to say that I had allowed our dog to come in during a bad storm, and she decided that the coffee table would look much better if she chewed on it. I didn’t notice because I was all of ten and probably watching TV or playing with my Transformers. It wasn’t on purpose and had I seen her, I would have stopped her, but neither of those things happened.
Suddenly, I was grounded for a month with the added punishment of doing a book report each week. My “out” was to get a spanking. I thought I was being smart avoiding it. I’d eventually give in after a week (which I obviously should have opted for it immediately and saved myself the trouble).
But the first book I chose was The Call of the Wild, this somewhat illustrated book that I’d probably gotten for a gift or maybe I picked it up at the book fair one day at school. Either way, I started in on it and found that I was enjoying my “punishment”. The story of this dog and the amazing and sometimes terrible things he was forced to do in order to just survive. I don’t know for sure what impression it made on me in the moment, but it lingered in there, somewhere deep in the brain… waiting for me to access it again. To determine whether something else this author had written might also appeal to me.
Luckily late middle school or possibly freshman English had an assignment to read one of Jack London’s short stories “To Build a Fire”. And with that, he graduated to one of my favorite writers. It had only taken half a decade or so…
The Hobbit – J R R Tolkien
In middle school and high school, my group of friends all read fantasy books. Since we played Dungeons and Dragons we naturally leaned toward all the books TSR was putting out. Those stories slowly built the various worlds they’d developed. We read the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance novels and later when they expanded into the Dark Sun universe and Spelljammer novels, we devoured those as well.
All the time, though, one of my friends kept telling me that I needed to read this book: The Hobbit. Didn’t I understand that Mr. Tolkien was the headwaters of the whole genre? Didn’t I want to see where the things I loved so much had come from originally?
Much like other people, it’s always a hard thing when someone tells you constantly that your life isn’t complete without doing/seeing/reading something. My natural tendency is to fight against it. Not always, but more often than not. Maybe I don’t want them to be right (which makes no sense, as I should want to be entertained by good things). So I put it off and put it off… until the day came where he might have put the book down on my desk one day.
So I begrudgingly read it.
Now, I assume you know where this little story is going. I tore through those pages in a way that I didn’t think was possible. And upon reaching the end of the book, I asked if he’d done anything else which would lead me down the rabbit hole of The Lord of the Rings.
You’d be wrong about all that, but it was a good guess.
Sadly, the book didn’t grab me. I was bored by many of the early scenes. And at some point, I put the book down for nearly six months (or was it nine). I had other things to read and no matter what pedigree this novel had, it didn’t work for me. But after much shaming from that same friend, I picked the book back up and finished it.
And still didn’t like it.
This is my gift. It is my curse. I love fantasy, but I didn’t like The Hobbit.
John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.
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