I have always enjoyed reading. Well, perhaps not always, though I do have an early memory of myself looking over an alphabet book in the den of our house in Gresham even after my mother had left. I recall she brought me in and showed me the letters, and I kept looking. I must admit my memory consists largely of the picture of a lion, not necessarily including the L that must have been there also. At that age it is perhaps unsurprising that the picture most caught my interest. Given this beginning, and the frequent attempts I made to turn every toy into a flying car, or a launchpad for the same, that I made in our basement family room, one might suppose I would have been drawn to fiction early on. This is not the case.
I had somewhere formed the opinion that reading fiction was ridiculous. I was too 'grown up' for it even as I fought imaginary hordes of enemies in my own yard with sticks. There is still an unfortunate blight on a particular tree at our old house, one that otherwise would look like the perfect Christmas tree, at about shoulder level to my seven or eight-year-old self. I had no idea that the tree would learn not to grow new branches over the spot where they kept getting beaten by a stick. I didn't know trees were that smart. I would climb up the two taller trees in the front yard and shoot imaginary bows at people. Somehow I had the good sense not to actually use my dad's bow, although the thought did cross my mind. Good sense notwithstanding, this may have had more to do with his ability at hiding than my caution.
In any case, I remained convinced of the total waste of space that fiction was until the fifth grade. We read often during class in my school. I had occasionally forgotten my book, and since the other books on the shelf were short and often taken by other students, I one day took the dictionary to my desk to read during reading time because if you did not have a book you got no participation points. I surprised myself by enjoying reading it, and used the same trick many times over the years.I did try to keep it as a last resort however, and by fifth grade I felt I was running low on options from the nonfiction section of our school library. I should mention that while our nonfiction section there was very small, I had not even come close to reading every book in it. What I had done was read every book that caught my eye. There were still some I was considering reading, but I was not excited about them.
I had never asked a librarian for help or recommendations before, but we had recently had a library event of some kind where she offered to help us find a book. I asked.
I was very disappointed when she took me to the right-hand side of the library, which was all fiction. I don’t recall now whether I had mentioned my desire for a practical book, one I could learn from, or not. If I did she did not take it the way I meant it. She brought me straight to “Mossflower” by Brian Jacques. I took the book only because I felt that it would be impolite not to. The characters were all animals. I started to read it during reading time in class for similar reasons to why I had read the dictionary. I loved it. My activities underwent a radical change around that time. My trips to the nearby woods were much less frequent, and when I went I was more likely to be thinking about Martin the Warrior or tyrannical wild cats than just rambling.
At night my family would find me reading by flashlight under the old pool table that was normally covered in clean laundry by my mother in an attempt to get us to fold our own. I took books on vacation with me, and the Redwall books ( of which Mossflower is either the first or the prequel) were devoured in two days or so each. This is somewhat more expressive of the degree to which I had changed my mind about fiction if you know that the books averaged 400 pages or so and I was only in the fifth grade at the time.
Reading has always been enjoyable for me, but I have had to learn to be careful about letting it take over my life. The worlds those books brought to life for me did teach me quite a bit, but as I have grown older I have had to remember to do my own living in this world. The stunts I pulled in the woods, and elsewhere, remind me that this world has its own share of adventure.