There are two kinds of readers.
The first is that precocious kid who was reading before pre-k. The kid whose parents didn’t know what to do because he had already read every book on the (enter grade level) curriculum and needed more. That’s the kid who went through the steps of literacy from Goodnight Moon, to Amelia Bedelia, to Captain Underpants, to Narnia. Books and reading were always a part of his life.
But there is another kind of reader. The reader who never liked reading. His parents were concerned in third grade that he didn’t read. That he didn’t like to sit down with a good book. That he only wanted to run outside, or build, or play video games. He was the kid who learned about SparkNotes in fifth grade and faked his Reading Log so he would just pass middle school English. But he became a reader anyway, and more than likely, it was because of one book.
So many people become life-long readers because of one title. It’s their defining book. The one that opened a world to them. JK Rowling, John Green, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King – all of them have the honor of launching readers into other works. There are more. Sometimes it’s Jodi Piccoult. Sometimes, yes, it’s Stephanie Meyer. Sometimes it’s Sandman. It’s all that struggling Middle Schooler needs, and whatever works, let it work.
I was thinking about this when I was tagged in that Facebook status asking for a list of the books that changed my life. I never answered it, sorry. It was interesting to read other people’s lists, though, even though it was probably not fair that I didn’t contribute to the growing trend. I saw classic titles – Harry Potter was a big one – but also some random ones. Comic books and graphic novels made the lists as well. Some people listed the Bible, which is nice and all, but c’mon. There were a few pretentious titles: Walden, The Scarlet Letter, Billy Budd (seriously?). But overall, it was a good list of the gateway books. The ones you need to watch out for. The ones that might lead you down a dangerous path of reading, and fiction, and dogeared copies of beloved stories.
I’ve watched that happen to people who have said that they “never read.” I’ve watched people who are in the grips of their first reader’s high after finishing a book, trying to thrust it on anyone who will listen: “You MUST read this book!” I still get that sometimes, but there is nothing like the first time. And the more I read, the more critical I become. The more my tastes are refined, the higher I set my standards, and the harder it is to get that new book excitement.
I’m jealous of those newbies.
But every once in a while, I get a hold of a book that puts me back in that moment. That moment where I read slowly, to savor every page. The book that leaves me wanting more. The book that makes me run to my neighbor’s house, thrust it in her hands, and say. “You MUST read this!”
I have a couple titles waiting on my shelf. One of them, I hope, will be that one book. Again.