I was not a bibliophile from the beginning. My love of books did not come until late in my adolescence. I never loathed literature, but reading books I found boring and irrelevant in school did not nurture a healthy longing to read. I mostly stuck to the basics; Garfield books, books about NBA players with copious amounts of pictures, and the occasional novel about Wayside Schools or perhaps a fictional baseball player trying to make it into the the big leagues. As my juvenility slowly progressed into my pubescent years I began to form a somewhat broader interest in reading. But it only went further into the subject of sports. All I read was books about various athletes and maybe the occasional biography on a musician. The only real progression was that at age fourteen or fifteen I was reading decent sized books with little or no pictures inside (often just a few choice photos in the middle of the book).
One instance altered my paradigm forever. I was sixteen and in California on vacation with my family. The first day of our trip we lounged for hours at Huntington Beach, soaking in the sun. My parents were engrossed in huge paperbacks and I was laying in the sand reading a book about post-retirement Michael Jordan. My dad took an inspired break from his guilty pleasure novel and accosted me. He spoke rather sardonically, “why don’t you read a grown up book for once?” I laughed and shrugged. I had no clever or reasonable retort. He then tossed me a paperback of some 500 plus pages and said, “start reading this, if after the first two chapters you are bored or don’t like it I will leave you alone, but I think you will enjoy it.” I reluctantly agreed, thinking I was going to prove him to be the fool. Well I was wrong. John Grisham had captured me. The book was The Runaway Jury, and I was hooked. Never before had I realized how enjoyable reading could be. I mostly just liked learning trivialities about my childhood heroes.
So I got a late start, but some ten years later I have read nearly 600 books since that fateful day on the shore. I am afraid too many people are stuck in the same place I was a decade ago. They do not hold reading with disdain or harsh feelings, they simply do not know how to love reading. They are stuck with the notion that reading is tolerable, and enjoyable if the subject is just right. But one must love reading! One must be enthralled with learning, exploring, finding, and searching for new ideas. One must learn from the past, and study to conquer the future. I have met too many people that claim “I like reading, I just do not have the time.” I assure them that the busiest people in the world find time to glean knowledge from the priceless pages of timeless books. Louis L’Amour in his book entitled Education of a Wandering Man said that within a year he could read upwards of twenty-five books simply in the time he spent waiting for things. Ipso facto, we all have time to read. We simply must make the time. For Mr. L’Amour also said: “Once you have read a book you care about, some part of it is always with you.” What terrific incentive we have to not waste away our time. Thomas A. Kempis so wisely said: “Never be entirely idle; but either be reading, or writing, or praying, or meditating or endeavoring something for the public good.”
My personal secret for making the leap from liking reading to loving it, to having an obsessive passion with it is simple. I dominate the books I read. No matter the book, if I come across a word I do not know, I do not read another page until I have looked up said word and written the definition in the margin. Even if I have a pretty good idea what the word means from context, I look it up to homologate my suspicions. Why be unsure if we can be certain? In reading works of history I omnivorously look up subject matter, whether it concerns names, geography or organizations. Why just learn about something if you can become expert in it? Why are we so determined to know much, but be expert of nothing? My books are precious to me. They are filled with food stains, and scratchy annotations. They have underlined salient phraseology, and highlighted pieces of poetry. But I never vacillate with the idea of lending my book to another. The point of a book is that it is timeless. As long as one copy is extant, its inspiration and influence can know no bounds. So why limit a book’s influence by keeping it on a dusty shelf or in a battered book bag? After all, knowledge begets knowledge.
So if you are having trouble finding that passion for literature, do not fret. You needn’t run out and procure the works of Tolstoy or Edward Gibbons. Read something small that sounds interesting. Knowledge begets knowledge. Read Wikipedia, read magazines, read blogs (especially this one), read comics. But do not ever read just to read. Read to learn, read to edify yourself, read to find answers, read to escape. Let your mind be tangential. If you just finished a book you quite enjoyed about two young lovers in South Carolina, read up on South Carolina on Wikipedia. Maybe you will find that James Brown is from there, or that Ray Allen grew up there. Or maybe you will come to remember what you heard once in an 8th grade social studies class, that the Civil War started in Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Let your curiosities dictate what you learn. And lastly, do not limit yourself to one book at a time. Perhaps you think it does not make sense to read more than one book at a time. But should you not have a book ready at hand for your every capricious mood? Sometimes you just want to escape, get away from it all and delve into a guilty pleasure type book. Sometimes you just want facts, so you read the Sports Almanac, or The Guinness Book of World Records. Sometimes you need healing, so you read a religious piece to enhance your spirituality. Sometimes you just get recommended a book, and absolutely have to start it immediately because it looks so interesting. I am always reading between five and ten books at a time. And it is perfect for me. But find what is perfect for you. My advice would be however, to start a book any time you feel inclined to do so. I will finish with a few words of sagacity by Henry David Thoreau: “A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.”