Wednesday, January 29, 2014

An Author Who Hated Reading--For A Time

This blog has been a long time coming, and I'll tell you why.

Once upon a time, in a small city in north central Massachusetts called Fitchburg, there was a teenager named Sean. Sean was your average, run-of-the-mill teenager. He liked sports and girls, listening to music on the radio, and watching his favorite television shows. One of the things he didn't like, though, was reading.

There was one good reason for that. He had nothing to read that interested him.

Oh, of course there were the books that his teachers at Fitchburg High School force-fed him, books that are so-called classics. Books from a long ago age, with what he considered dull writing that didn't seem to spark any interest in him. Books that his teachers needed to pull his arm off and beat him over the head with it in order to get him to read it. He shrugged, didn't read them, failed his English courses, and somehow still went on to become a fantastic author and sportswriter.

Hmmm, you're saying to yourself. How can that be? How can one be an author if that person doesn't like to read?

The answer is simple.

He found books that he liked to read. He found books that interested him. He found books that fostered a love of reading within him. He found books that reached out and pulled him in with excellent writing, writing that brought him to other places.

Sean was about 15 or 16 when he and his mother walked into his local WaldenBooks store, a store where he would later meet a local author named R.A. Salvatore and put him on a path toward writing his first novel. You've probably heard of him. Anyway, Sean's mother was in the romance section on this fine Saturday. Not wanting to see his mother pour over the bodice rippers, he moseyed over a few feet to the Science Fiction/Fantasy section. Sean had been a fan of the Star Wars movies growing up, and his father had handed him The Hobbit when he was 11. He liked it enough. Lo and behold, as he peered those shelves, he found quite a few Star Wars novels. There weren't many.

If books had voices, they called to him, begging him to ask him mother to buy them.

"Hey ma," he said, turning to her. "Can we get some of these Star Wars books?"

Hand to Cthulhu, Sean's mother walked over and swiped them all into her basket. And suffice it to say, he traveled to that Galaxy Far, Far Away many times, gobbling up those books--and soon waited for more.

But what else could he read, that would hold his attention, while he waited?

Enter John Grisham. Books like The Firm, The Runaway Jury, A Time To Kill, The Pelican Brief. Stories about law with an interesting plot (and a little sex, too). But once the new Star Wars came out, he would get it, bring it home, and devour it. Books--Star Wars books--soon became his drug of choice. He didn't find those books boring. Far from it.

From there, he found other great authors and turned into a rather voracious reader. He finally read Lord of the Rings, reading the three books in less than a month. He's moved on to find great authors like Michael Connelly, and Jim C. Hines, and Mario Acevedo, and David Forbes, and Kevin J. Anderson. He discovered Vince Flynn in the remainders section ten years or so ago: when Flynn died last year, Sean felt as if a member of his own family had died.

Nowadays, he's writing his own stories--he's currently writing his 20th full-sized novel, and he's written a few children's books and short stories, too--but he still has a love of reading that carries him through the days. He rarely watches television. He reads great fiction that entertains him, fiction that doesn't lull him into an absolute stupor with dry writing--much like the books he was supposed to read for school. He has Kindle practically everywhere he goes, and it's not out of character for him to read a bit before a ballgame. And what is he reading now, you ask? Star Wars: Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn.

So you see, teens of today: there's a lot of symmetry between you and your elders. Yes, they were forced to read the same books you're being forced to read today (it's the case for those of you at Fitchburg High School; hello, Wuthering Heights). But when someone says for you to do some independent reading, you shouldn't say that it's "mad boring as shit." You need to find the book that--like it did for me some twenty years ago--grabs you by the throat and pulls you in. There is a book out there that will do it for you.

I guarantee it.