My reading adventure may have begun in the deep, deep, woods, but after entering into that moss covered kingdom of enchantment, I lost my way for a time. Despite my fond memories of the books which I had read to me as a child, and despite the fact that this generally leads to children wanting to read on their own, I was what you might call a, “late bloomer”, when it came to reading.
I chalk up my reluctance to join the reading train to two things: first (and probably this one bears the lion’s share of the blame) I was partial to “picture books”. I didn’t like the ones with a lot of text. I wanted big, full page pictures and the text was just there to string them together for me at first. I remember checking out one book from the library over and over again which was just a book to teach kids French, but I loved the pictures so much. Obviously, I wasn’t reading it for the story since it was the dramatic equivalent of a dictionary!
The second reason my reading life stalled out may have been that I was placed in a slower reading group in school. I don’t blame the teachers for doing this; I probably deserved to be in that group, but I sometimes wonder if such things aren’t self-fulfilling prophecies to some degree. Slower students don’t get challenged because we think we may be setting them up to fail, but maybe if we asked more of them, they might rise to the occasion. It’s hard to say, but one thing is for sure, getting put in this group certainly didn’t do much for my love of reading.
A little bit of history
The third grade was the first time I got a little taste of the reading bug. My desk for that year was by the book shelf on the side of the room. Whether from boredom or curiosity I can’t say, but I stumbled upon a series of biographies on the founding fathers there. I gobbled up stories about George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and others. I’m not sure how many I ended up reading in the end, but it was a fair amount, especially for a non-reader like me. I was fascinated by what I learned, for these figures seemed like such real people to me. This was definitely the first time I really felt enthusiasm to read and discover books on my own.
Alas, the reading romp was short lived. After that brief sojourn into the wide world of books, I did not become “a reader”, as they say. In fact it would be a few more years before anything really captured my imagination. I’m sure I read books here and there, but mostly my time was spent playing sports or games, and watching TV.
A different kind of book
It was around the fifth grade when I first stumbled upon The Cave of Time in the library, the very first of the Choose Your Own Adventure book series, which would, in its hey day sell over 250 million copies as a series (I’m not quite there yet, but you can be sure I’ll let you know when it happens). This book had a profound influence upon me. I realize now that it was a very simplistic story, but it captured my imagination in a way that perhaps had not happened since those Raggedy Ann days as a toddler. For here was not only a tale of pure imaginative fancy, but I, as the reader, was placed front and center as the main character.
I had never even conceived of the idea of an “interactive” book before where I was asked to make decisions about the story’s outcome. To some degree, nearly all fictional books are interactive in the sense that they invite the reader to enter into the story and imagine himself riding alongside the other characters in their adventures, but this series took that to a different level.
Most of my friends were as captivated by these books as I was. In fact, my best friend and I loved the concept so much that we actually started writing our own Choose Your Own Adventure book together and wrote something like fifty pages before abandoning it. Perhaps one day I’ll share more of the details of how that story fell by the wayside, but for now it is enough to know that, while I certainly fell in love with this series, once again, these books failed to really turn me into a lifelong reader. It was more of my love of being able to choose what would happen that I was after than perhaps the stories themselves. Since other books did not really allow me to do that, after reading all of the books of that series which I could find, I returned to my game playing, running around the yard activities, and my reading slacked off once again.
So when did I finally become a real reader? I’ll talk about the answer to that question in the next post.