When I was a boy and a red wiggler on a hook was the most important thing in the world, I didn’t read well. I guess you could say I was distracted, got behind, and never seemed to catch up until reading was no longer a requirement to make the merit list.
I did read all seventeen books in Louis L’Amour’s Sackett series, every single word of it. My daddy read them at the same time, but he got through them much more quickly than I did. I was prone to read a chapter and then go outside and act the scene out. Tell Sackett was my favorite. Many were the days that he and I fought our way out of a tight spot with Comanches, Apaches, Sioux, and at least a hundred downright scoundrels.
At night, just before bedtime, I’d look over at my daddy, kicked back in a recliner at least a decade past its prime, and see that he was several books ahead of me in the series. I’d stare at the alluring picture on the cover and naturally assume that the one in his hands was the best one yet. “What’s that one about?” I’d ask.
Without taking his eyes off the words, he’d slowly say, “You’ll see. Just keep on reading.”
I tried to read The Shining for a book report in the eighth grade, but even a BB gun by the head of my bed did not keep thoughts of Jack Torrence and those twins at bay, so I just assumed they all died in the end and closed the book for good. A year or two later I spent the night with Brooks Gallman, and his sisters insisted that we watch the movie with them. They were older, and well, they were girls, so we did, and I didn’t sleep for a week.
There was always an excuse not to read in high school. Sports, hunting, fishing, horses, and suddenly girls seemed to steal more and more time from my day. I skimmed to get by, sometimes got hooked and read beyond the minimalist barrier, but never enough to excel. It wasn’t until college that I found a whole other world stuffed between covers. I was pretty sure there were no such a things as wizards, elves and hobbits, but Tolkien convinced me that there ought to be. I discovered a new meaning for dysfunctional family in the pages of The Prince of Tides, and I would have given anything for one day’s ride with Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrae.
Today, when I chance to see a raggedy, dog-eared copy of The Sacketts, vivid images instantly return, images that I constructed in my mind three decades ago. They make me feel young again; make me dream of a time when I hoped I’d grow up to look like the Marlboro man. That’s the power of reading, and that’s why we need to make darn sure that our kids fall in love with books.