That One Book

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.


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5 replies

  1. This happened to my little brother – the sixth grader, the one who wanted to come to Harry Potter World with us. When he was in third grade he couldn’t read yet, literally couldn’t sound out the words. One day, he said to me, “Books are stupid. Movies are obviously so much better!” Well, I couldn’t have that. So I started reading him a chapter of Harry Potter every night, and he loved it. But one night, when he asked me to read (we were about halfway through Book 5), I said, “Nope. I’m sorry. I have too much homework.” At first he threw a fit, but when he saw I was serious he went into his room, closed the door, and read it himself. I could hear him sounding out the words from the living room. It took him a good five minutes to work out each sentence, but he was determined. From then on, I’d only read to him every couple of nights, and by Book 7 he didn’t want me reading to him at all – he could do it himself, he said. That’s when I really started swearing by Harry Potter. Although by the time he started ordering wands off Amazon I was getting a little worried about the sway J.K. Rowling holds over the world.
    As for me, I was one of those precocious kids reading before pre-k. Not quite as exciting of a story.
    Did you have a first book?

  2. Wouldn’t it be amazing to find out that something you wrote did that for someone?

    I am a reader but the older and busier I get the easier it is for me to put down a book after a few chapters and never pick it up again. I need six months with no distractions to just get back in the habit of pushing through on those kinds of books, they almost always are worth it. I think I am lucky because I enjoy so many different types of books. Intense, light, funny or poignant, a good book is a good book! I am currently reading The Martian by Andy Weir because my sister forced it on me and I’m so glad she did.

  3. As a librarian, I feel a big responsibility when helping children find just the right book to read. When dealing with children that don’t like reading, I think that finding just the right book is like matchmaking. The book that is recommended can make it or break it; If it’s the right one, the child could love it and come back and ask for another book. if it’s the wrong book, it can turn him/her off reading for a long time.
    I read a lot of childrens’ books, and I enjoy reading most of them and still lock myself in a room for hours (so as not to be bothered) when i get my hands on something really good.
    Some of my favorite outhors are Michael Morpurgo, Demi and Susie Morgenstern (written originally in French).


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