Monday, March 31, 2014

Reading and Purpose


“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.”

Lemony Snicket, Horseradish


“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”

George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons



“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”

Groucho Marx



I enjoy reading and I always have.  One of my earliest memories, and one of my best, was sitting on my mother’s lap, at the age of 5 or 6, reading, “Ann ate an apple.”  To this day, Ann is one of my favorite names.  The book was pink and white and light orange.  The day was sunny and warm.  Reading started out as a good experience for me.  As I grew older, I spent most of my time reading comic books, rather than books.  Fortunately, the comic books I read, mostly Marvel Comics, were fairly sophisticated in both plot and vocabulary.  I learned a lot of cultural references and vocabulary from reading Spider-Man, the Avengers, and the Fantastic Four.  By the time I was in 4th grade, I had a 7th grade vocabulary. 
Of course, I read books too, perhaps not as much as comic books, but I read a lot.  When my family moved from Maryland to Japan, my mom gave me two coloring books about U.S. Presidents.  From these I developed a fondness for U.S. History.  By the time I was 10, I could name all the U.S. Presidents and I knew all the wars the U.S. had been involved in from the Revolution to the Viet Nam Conflict.   I may have been unusual in this respect. 
One day, on the last day of 4th grade, after school had ended and everyone had gone home to start summer vacation, I was still at the school for some reason.  I’m not sure why.  It wasn’t for love of school.  My laziness, fear, and hyperactivity made most school years a nightmare for me.  Still, I was there for some reason.  Perhaps I’d left something and had gone back to retrieve it.  My teacher, Mrs. Baker, was cleaning the room and things were a mess.   When I walked in, she was in the far corner of the room organizing and packing.  She handed me a book and said, “Here, Robert.”
The book was 40 American Biographies by Helen Miller Bailey.  It was a library discard from 1964, thus making it about six years old at the time.  I don’t know if she handed me that particular book because she knew of my love for history, or if she was just trying to get rid of one more thing.    I like to think it was the former.  I was not the easiest kid in the class.  In fact, my poor study habits and my hyperactivity almost caused me to repeat the 4th grade.  But I like to think that Mrs. Baker was a good teacher who knew what each of her students needed as individuals.  I like to think that Mrs. Baker knew I needed that book.  I read that book. I still have it over 40 years later.  
As a result, I read more biographies and more books about Presidents.  I read encyclopedias when we visited other people’s homes.  I read whatever I could find.  Interestingly, I didn’t read much fiction, with one exception.  I had a fondness for Big Little Books, which were fictional stories of cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny or Donald Duck.  The pages alternated between pictures and text.  Most of them were mystery stories.  I still have a large collection of these.  Around the same time, when I was about 10, I discovered Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators.  I’m not sure why this book intrigued me, because, as I said, I didn’t read much fiction, but I persuaded my mom to buy it and I read it almost immediately.  I soon realized it was a series and I read several other books in the series. 
However I spent most of my childhood and young adulthood reading comic books.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like reading other things; I just liked comic books more.   If I could have gotten away with it, (and at times I did) I wouldn’t have read anything else but comic books, except perhaps books about comic books.  Things are different now.
Today I read with a mission:  I use what I read to bless others.  This perspective creates the following guidelines:
·      Reading, especially in the last ten years, has changed my life.
·      Reading is part of my Purpose.
·      I count listening to audio books as reading, because I’m learning or reinforcing learning.
·      Almost anything I read or listen to can be used to instruct.
·      Therefore, I can read anything I want to read.  I don’t have to stick to one genre or subject.  In fact, I shouldn’t.
·      The more I read, the more ideas I have.
·      The more ideas I have, the more I can offer to the world.

So I read.  I’m usually in the middle of several books at once.  The Enemy attacks me here as in every other area that is connected with my Purpose, but I read anyway.  I Get Started and I Keep Going and I keep reading.