I didn’t read much when I was younger.
I recall a time when I was about 10 years old where during a particularly bad rain storm I let our collie, Holly, in the house. Unbeknownst to me, she decided that she was so happy to be inside that she was going to chew on some of the furniture. Me, being oblivious, didn’t notice her efforts (maybe she was giving me a message to thank me?).
My Mom noticed. My step-Father noticed. And I was given the choice:
Grounded for a month. No TV. And I had to do a book report a week during that time.
Or I could take a whipping and it just be over.
I lasted a week before I opted for the whipping. I think a friend’s mom convinced me that while it would hurt, it would be over and then I could do whatever I wanted after that.
I think about that from time to time. Not so much the whipping or the no TV, but the idea of having reading be a punishment. And it would have been at that time. I think I was still a couple of months away from discovering comic books, so the idea that someone might read for pleasure never occurred to me. I completed one of those book reports before I went with option #2.
Strange that it took years before I read anything else of Jack London (To Build a Fire – which might be the perfect short story), an author who I would put as one of my top 5 overall.
Years passed and pretty much the only reading I did that wasn’t in comic form was some assignment from school. I’ve mentioned it once before, but it was my friend Lee, in 6th grade, who set me straight about reading. He slid a copy of On A Pale Horse by Piers Anthony over to me and urged me to begin reading it.
When I finished with that one he had the next book ready. And then the next… all the way until book #5 (book #3, With A Tangled Skein is the first book I’ve ever reread). I would liken him to a drug dealer, but it was worse than that. At one point during 7th grade I believe I read 4 books in 1 week. Literally every moment of my free time that wasn’t spent shooting baskets was occupied with reading.
During high school it became all about the pulp fiction of the day. The various worlds where Dungeons and Dragons were being played with names like Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun, Spelljammer, and a bunch of others that I’m surely forgetting. Every month a new book (or 2 or 5) seemed to come out and if I couldn’t buy them myself I’d borrow them from friends.
The bad thing about assigned reading was always that in learning about the classics… well, sometimes they aren’t all that great. Yes, for every Alas Babylon that you get to read in class there is a (for me at least) Tale of Two Cities.
That book may go down as the only book I never actually finished while in High School. I have no idea how I managed to pass the tests on the novel as I didn’t bother to get the Cliff notes, and there was no Wiki for me to go and peruse at the time.
After high school I decided that all those authors you learn about in school… maybe I should actually check them out. And so came my education with Twain and Poe and London and Kipling. Somehow, just that act of reading on my own made me want to do more, to discover more. And when I had my fill of those classics I turned to more modern readings of Science Fiction – Dune, Stranger in a Strange Land, and Time Enough for Love.
Each one altered my brain a little bit more, showed me a new universe. And even now, with the Kindle and the onslaught of Independent publishing, I find more and more universes to discover. I still hear those older ones still waiting for me to discover them. In the last year I have a book shelf of non-fiction books I want to read. Books about the history of pirates, or Marvel comics…
It seems weird now to think that there ever could have been a time where reading could have been used as a punishment for me. Now the only way that might work is if you told me I couldn’t read anymore.
Now my biggest problem are the books sitting on the dresser waiting for me to give them a read.
John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.
He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!
He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.