Saturday, February 26, 2011

CATCHING BOOK FEVER

I love books. I love reading them and learning from them by those much more intelligent than I am.  I have discovered that it makes no difference if a book is non-fiction or fiction you can still learn from reading.  In reality though, I don't read much fiction but of the fiction I have read there are several that stand out as books that taught me a lot that.

I have been reading as long as I can remember.  Something in books ignite the imagination.  Maybe it is being told a story very quietly inside your head.  Reading a book is quiet time and concentration time.  It is like a little voice in your head telling you a story.  I could be wrong, but I honestly do not remember many books being read to me by someone other than myself.

My parents had bought a set of Encyclopedias that came with a set of childrens books.  These books were written in large print and condensed down to hold a child's attention better.  They included such titles as Black Beauty, Treasure Island, Alice in Wonderland among others.  I read these books several times over and I still hold onto to these books on a bookcase in my house.   They are still a treasure to me.  My son read them as he was growing up so this set of books have gone through two generations.  Hopefully eventually they will go through a third generation depending upon Brett and what his future holds.  Right now looks like it will stop at two generations.

I am told that I use to read the encyclopedia volumes when I was young but I do not remember this.  If you think about it though, reading an encyclopedia can be very exciting and interesting.  They jump from topic to topic in short order so you don't get bogged down in one story line too often.

My book reading really took off though the year I caught Book Fever.  I was in the fourth grade and my teacher, Ms Fitzwater, had a plethora of books in the back of the room on a book shelf.  The definition of a plethora of books to a fourth grader is simply "a LOT of books."  Ms Fitzwater use to encourage us to read whenever we had spare time.  If we got our lessons over early she would allow us to read.  She would let us order books through the Weekly Reader book club at school.  These were small books that did not cost too much but gave you something to build a library at home upon.  I got art books and biographies and fictional books from the club.  Probably the book that stands out the most in my mind that i got that year was a book on Robert F. Kennedy.  It made an impression on me about the man that still holds in my mind to this day.

I think my school work may have suffered a bit during that fourth grade year because I would rush through my assignment in order to have some reading time.  Ms Fitzwater tried to keep me on track with my lessons but at the same time I think she knew I was a reader and she was very careful not to put that fire out I think.  It was Ms Fitzwater that introduced me to the author that would fill the rest of my life with his novels.  That author was John Steinbeck.

Ms Fitzwater saw me looking over the books one day trying to find one that I hadn't read yet.  She was not a tall lady and I wasn't a short boy so we could look each other in the eye without too much trouble.  I remember her stretching up to an upper shelf and bringing down a little paperback book.  It wasn't very thick and I thought I would be able to read it in a day or so.  She held it out to me and said she thought that I would really enjoy this, but that it was a very serious book and I should read it slowly and carefully.  In bold black letters at the top of the white paperback cover were the words "Of Mice and Men".  At first the title was a little intimidating.  Add the title to the warning from Ms Fitzwater about it being a serious book and I wasn't sure I wanted to take this little book or not.  The title alone made it sound like a difficult read.  She assured me I would enjoy it and so I took it home that night and began to read Steinbeck for the first time in my life.  Within two hours of starting the book my love affair with the works of Steinbeck was in full bloom.

It took me two days to read the book the first time and then I kept it the rest of the week to read it again.  What a sad tale it told.  It was more difficult to read the second time than the first because I KNEW as George and Lenny worked through problems and tried to keep things straight so they could work, I KNEW what was in store for Lenny.  I did not like the ending but the book captivated me.  Steinbeck was writing a story and to be honest I couldn't tell if it was a true story or not.  I would come to appreciate the magic Steinbeck had with words with each year that I grew and read more of his books.

I took the book back to school the next week and put it back on the shelf where I had seen Ms Fitzwater take it from.  Later that day, she called me over during recess and asked me if I had been able to finish the book.  After I told her I had read it twice she began asking questions of me about the book and suggested that I write a book report on it,  She would give me extra credit which she apparently thought I could use at that point in time of the school year.  Seems like a lot of my teachers would be offering me extra credit as I progressed through school.  I agreed and began work on a book report on the classic book by Steinbeck.

It was probably the hardest report I ever had to do.  As I sat and thought of the book I realized that it was an extremely complicated book.  It was so much more than two friends traveling together, getting a job together and then one of the friends killing the other for his friends own safety.  I knew there was more to it than that but my mind wasn't trained enough to be able to pick it out and put it into words.  I did my best though and after turning in the report Ms Fitzwater had some very nice words for the report and gave me the extra credit she had promised.  I do believe it was at this moment that I caught full blown BOOK FEVER;  I wanted to read more of Steinbeck and others like him.  Ms Fitzwater gave me some other books to read that year but none captured my mind the way Steinbeck's novel had.  There was something so very real about Steinbeck and the characters he wrote of.

Six years later I would have another teacher that recognized my love of and search for books that could fire the imagination.  I was very lucky to get a literature teacher by the name of Ms Belden my sophomore year.  She introduced me to more of John Steinbeck's work.  "In Dubious Battle". "Travel's With Charley", " East Of Eden", and the masterpiece of Steinbecks collection of work "The Grapes Of Wrath."  There were other authors out there who had written of the human condition much the way Steinbeck had.  She introduced me to Sinclair Lewis and his fictional of city  of Zenith filled with fictional characters that if you looked hard enough you could see in current everyday life.  There was George Babbit and Dr. Arrowsmith along with a traveling preacher named  Elmer Gantry.  She introduced me to an author by the name of Upton Sinclair, whose book "The Jungle" had my eyes scouring it four or five times before the cover fell off of it.

Even though my taste in books would almost totally switch over to non-fiction as I grew older, teachers played a major role in getting me to learn what to read and how to read.  It was these two teachers, Ms Fitzwater and Ms Belden, that had that extra gift of bringing books alive and allowing me to learn why to read.

As a side note:  I am feeling a little grief over the electronic revolution that is slowing doing away with the old books.  The books you held in your hand.  The books that you could stop and hold it and think about what you just read.  I grieve over the day when there won't be that beautiful sight of books lined up along a shelf with different bindings and colors.  I like to hold a book.  I like to thumb through it.  I like to look at a book and it jacket cover.  I am afraid the day of the actual book is coming to a close and I mourn it.

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