I was never a reader. As a child, I “read” books of less than 30 pages —most of which were filled with pictures. A little older, I read a few nonfiction books on Ancient Egyptians, American Aboriginals, world mysteries, snakes and dinosaurs. These were, again, filled with pictures. And, I never actually finished them. Nor did I finish the books assigned to me in elementary school.
I remember stealing a book in grade five —again filled with pictures. And, I also remember every month we’d get flyers from Scholastic Canada filled with books for purchase. We would also have book fairs once a year. Both of these got me really excited! And again, I would always purchase books with pictures. Pictures, pictures, pictures.
In high school, I would go to the library only when I was forced to. And, I never opened most of my textbooks. I used to quip that each new textbook became the new floor of my locker.
I abused Sparknotes. I was a slow reader. And, I couldn’t follow a plot. In short, for the first 18 years of my life, I hated books.
It never occurred to me that books without a plot, i.e. non-fiction books, existed. No one ever introduced me to the other half of the library! I was duped into the lie that all books contained dragons, princes and fictional explorers. I was never told that non-fiction books beyond textbooks existed. I was never told that Harvard psychologists, Caltech physicists, Yale economists, Nobel Laureates, presidents and the Founding Fathers wrote books! That is…until I turned 18.
When I turned 18 my oldest cousin introduced me to “The Alchemist.” I am forever grateful. From that day on, my life changed. I became conscious. I was inspired, enriched, wiser, different and satiated.
They say a person is born twice, once is his real birth and the second is when he learns to read. I was born-again. We all remember our first childhood reading memories. “The Alchemist” was mine.
After I finished “The Alchemist”, I was even hungrier. I wanted to read every book on the planet! I hunted down the New York Times bestsellers, the Amazon bestsellers and the Pulitzer prize winners. I regretted, like every other reader, that I didn’t read before, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. Hell no! I loved reading so much that I started going to the library. In fact, I used to arrive at my college library before some of the librarians did! Those were the days. I repeatedly opened the door for one of them each morning.
I was so in love with books that I stole my college library’s “Red Zone, Stay quiet” sign and glued it on the outside of my bedroom door for my family to see. I even lost my once perfect eyesight to reading —going on the third prescription right now.
I was stuck to those old, comfy library chairs. No one could pry me from them, not even an earthquake. In fact, an earthquake struck! Books rattled off the shelves. But there I was, unmoved.
From then on, I read more than I talked. Daily I entered into the presence of literary giants, scientific lights and political paragons. Within books I found the answers to all my questions.
I began to dwell in two worlds. In one, I was the average teenager. In the other, I was being sculpted into an intellectual. Reading became a safe environment not only for exploring the conflicting thoughts of a young adult but for forging the well-reasoned mind of an adult.
Before reading, I was blind. But now, I saw. As Maya Angelou said, “When I look back, I am so impressed…with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.”
I agree. I wouldn’t trade my years of reading for anything else. Now, it feels like books give me nutritional value. Maybe I should put a nutritional fact table at the back of books —a good business idea. As the German Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, said, “I don’t think of work, only of gradually regaining my health through reading, rereading, [and] reflecting.”
Once I had the power of transforming dead signs into living memory and black lines into reality, I was nothing but all powerful. Life happened because I turned pages. I was reborn. I could read! And boy-o-boy did I read.
Reading was my rite of passage from teenager to adulthood. It was like acquiring an entirely new sense. It felt like I was admitted into the communal memory of humanity. In fact, it’s in books that I became acquainted with our history. In them I explored, digested, classified and labeled the universe.
My room at night became a blazing, flashing, vibrant time machine —my sanctuary. Books gave me a permanent home. In them, I sought comfort. And, it gave me more than comfort. I needed nothing else, just my iPad and Amazon. As Gustave Flaubert said, “Read in order to live.” Did I ever!
Reading gave me an excuse for privacy. “Go outside and live!” my mom would shout as if reading contradicted what it meant to be alive. Or she’d shout, “You can’t be comfortable like that, why don’t I get you another chair?” And just by having to answer, “No, thanks,” I had to pull my mind from an entirely different universe. Just by answering it felt as if I was two people: the reader lost in the book and the person sitting in the room. My favorite feeling is this feeling of being lost in a book.
If there is any one thing that defines me, it’s that I’m a reader. My obsession with books and reading exemplifies me. Books are so entwined with me now that I can’t separate the two. Reading has become like breathing. In fact, I am the books I’ve read. I can never describe myself via character traits. But man, can I describe myself via the books I’ve read.
In the Abbey of Fontevrault lies Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine who’s sculpted in stone holding a book. That is how I would represent myself.
I don’t read books. I study them. Scared to death that I’ll never get through my list, like every reader, I devour them like a dragon —sometimes wishing for them not to end. It would devastate me to leave this world with a reading list. But every reader has to come to terms with that.
It would also devastate me to not share what I’ve learned —hence why you hold this book in your hands. As Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” This is the book that I really want to read.
All I know and everything I can defend comes from books. For me, a book is everything —more precious than even gold and silver. I’ve awoken in myself a taste for books for the rest of my life. And the fire is still blazing. Ferociously! It’s this passion that I want to alight in you. And more importantly, it’s the 12 reasons why you must read that I want to ignite in you.
To your success,