5.19.2008

my love of reading

I was 9 years old the Summer of 1975 and my home town was serviced by the Shelby County Library Book Mobile. It faithfully arrived every two weeks. As I readied for it's arrival that afternoon, the morning began simply enough. I rode my bike over to my friend Michelle's house, she lived just behind the State Bank of Waldron, where the Book-Mobile parked.

I'd just been hooked by "Space Shows" on TV. In prime time, Kolchak, the Night Stalker began, though I watched it through interlocked fingers. I had discovered Star Trek in Syndication. The Sixth Sense (not the movie) was airing it's only season at 10 O'clock on Saturday night. The animated Star Trek was still showing random episodes of it's two season run. Shazam was also airing on Saturday morning. The Six Million Dollar Man had just aired it's first full season, following three TV movies the year before. So with this on my mind, I found a dog-eared paper-back called "The Caves of Steel" by Isaac Asimov. In this novel, Asimov first introduced Elijah Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw

I thought it looked pretty cool. I quickly took it up to the small, cluttered corner check-out desk. Smiling like the Cheshire Cat, I proudly handed her the book. I remember thinking she was taking a long time to check me out. Usually it was a smooth and rhythmic; open...stamp...close. Whoosh... Click... Thump. I looked up. She was thumbing through the book, fanning quickly through it's sun-faded pages. Looking at the book, then at me, she bluntly put it under her desk and said, "This is not a book you can read. It's too grown-up and its science fiction."

Well of course this made it even better!! I had to read this book now! I rode my bike home, got my Mom, told her what happened and she drove me back to the Book Mobile. Mom asked the Librarian why she wouldn't let me read the book I wanted. The Librarian stuck to her guns. She said I was too young to read it. Then leaning forward, she half-whispered, "Mrs. Monroe, you do realize this book is trash!"

You should understand that my dear Mother is one of the least combative or argumentative persons in the world. She's a Baptist Deacon; the daughter of a pacifist farmer; a Wife; a Mother and a Banker, but when it came to our education, she was a "Mama bear" rising to protect her cubs. Her opinion was, if we were reading it was good. She didn't care if it was comic books, science fiction or Judy Blume. (OK, she probably would have cared about the Judy Blume. Props to my Aunt Elizabeth)

Mom pointed to the book, she was quiet, measured, "Open the book to any page, if he can read it, he can check-out any book from now on, without my permission." After a short, Mom to Librarian Mexican stand-off, she opened it; I read it, was hooked and Mom was my hero.

Asimov, for at least two generations of SF fans, was the gateway drug to the harder stuff. You know; Gene Wolfe, John Varley, Larry Niven and Robert L. Forward. High school and college broadened my horizons to many more genres, but my heart still remains with SF. I just finished a Star Trek Novel about the Klingon Empire, a very literate and wonderful novel of a near future Internet Bank heist by Charles Stross and re-read the biography of Teddy Roosevelt's early life. After some thousands of books later, I've tried to pass on my love to my own children. My son, 12 is taking high school math. A subject his Mother and I are horrible at. He has little use for reading unless it's about a video game, football or math. At least he's reading something. My daughter, just 6, loves reading. Mrs. McNosh Hangs Up Her Wash is a current four star selection.

Thanks Mom and as Elijah Baley would say, Jehoshaphat!

A version of this was originally posted on my MySpace blog, July 18, 2007.

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