Like most kids, the boy thoroughly enjoyed reading through his elementary years. Turn the page to middle school and perhaps it slipped a little. At the zenith of standard education, high school, he’s not sure if he can remember but four or five books he read for sheer pleasure. Ten years down the road and he can’t imagine life without libraries, or a cold winter without a Russian novel. He only knows that at some point the urge to read was simply not there. Not to mention he can’t recall many teachers stressing the importance of literature, but he knows that’s not true.
At some time in his early teen years, there were reading competitions monthly, and he participated with fervor. The authors read were normal for a thirteen year old, rural school kid: Paulsen, Tolkein, Rawls, more Paulsen.
The high school years held less enthusiasm for reading. Preoccupied with athletics, among other things, he forgot the importance of reading. He can still look back and hold onto a few key moments, though. He dislikes the book today, but he clearly recalls reading “For Whom and the Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemingway, and enjoying it. Despite his faults in reading literature, he did absorb an abnormal amount of historical knowledge. This knowledge has made his current readings more enjoyable, because he can align writing with historical events quite easily.
Marching onward, he arrived at college (the first time) as an amateur reader. This was not exactly a desired label for a new college student. Yet, he did okay, but the love for reading was still not there; that was until he enrolled in a World Literature class for an elective. He had never even heard of Faulkner, Chekhov, or Neruda. This class changed his molecular structure for sense making, but it would still take him a couple more years to realize it. I guess the books had sent their call to him, but were left with a persistent dial tone.
The burden of classroom deadlines left him. Ironically enough, this is when he picked up books. He had to go through four years of college, obtain a degree, and accrue massive debt to pick up books for pleasure, so stupid. Certainly he wished the reading would have came first so that he didn’t have to do it all over again. But after reading Faulkner, Dostoevsky, Joyce, Conrad, Hemingway, McCarthy, Cather, and Gierach for six months the fire had been lit. He would get home from work and read, write, and reflect. He would then go to work and repeat the evening process. Every now and then a trip to the local bookstore would assuage his nine-to-five life.
The city grew tiresome, and a multitude of the books he read took place in The West, or open spaces, generally. A simple internet search for “colleges with low out of state tuition” led him to Chadron State College. It’s been more than a cheap college. The boy, or man or whatever, has learned more in two semesters than he ever has in classroom instruction before. The surrounding area is also more of a literary inspiration than he could have imagined. He likes what he is studying and the inordinate debt doesn’t feel too heavy, that comes later. Moreover, he is excited to attempt to pass on his love of reading through the practice of teaching. Maybe it might save some students the full circle money dance from the age of eighteen to twenty five. Books really have been a lot of fun for him. The world didn’t change its shape because of books, but it did change its color. From gray to green in a snap, but sometimes still gray, and that’s fine by him.
He is asking himself the question of how does this relate to my experiences as a teen reader? Well the short answer would be that he didn’t read at all as a teen, and the story would have been too brief. But he also knows that every time he reads a book half of the images seen are through a seventeen year old’s eyes. Maybe he is reading for those lost years and trying to send a signal to the lost reader that books matter. Maybe he is trying to carve out the story in figuring out the secret in getting a teenager to read. One thing is for certain, he sure wished someone was there to hand him a book that related to him in those dead years. It would have saved some time and money. Maybe he can do that for a student like him someday.
In closing he has listed his reading and writing inspirations and their favorite authors. Mother likes Cather. Father reads books about mountain men. Step father devours Chomsky. Brother reads Conrad, and then watches Apocalypse Now. Sister turns to Lee. Mr. B wouldn’t shut up about Hemingway. Catherine had a soft spot for Faulkner. Grandpa gets down on Tom Clancy. Anthony will one day read the entire Sand County Almanac. The other Brother likes London, and he does too.