As another cold winter night passes by in the city of Binghamton, boredom finally begins to set in as the clock ticks by in the wee hours of the night. I greet my fellow friend with a weary smile, dusting off his jacket, giving him a pat on the back. I’m immediately immersed by his warmth, as the mystery and intrigue he brings fills me with suspense. He is a book written by one of my favorite authors, John Grisham, and it has been years since I have picked up and read this very same novel. Losing all awareness of my surrounding reality, I read page after page, moving deeper and deeper into the world the author has created. Midway through this book, a slight grin crosses my face. My expression has nothing to do at all with this particular book, and yet it means everything to me at the very same time. My mind begins to travel back in time to my years as an elementary grade school student where my love of reading first began.
It was the beginning of September, I was ten years old and in fourth grade where I suspect my passion for reading first started. My elementary school was, in the words of the principal, “a magnet school” which means that the students had a certain level of intelligence which entitled the school to extra funding from the city and the school could establish some of its own programs. Perhaps it was because of this and a desire from the administration of the school to maintain high reading scores on the standardized tests that the “contest” was created. I remember clearly how my English teacher announced this competition to the class, which, looking back on it now really sounded more like a homework assignment to me than a contest.
I think it was my love of reading that made the assignment so easy. I always enjoyed reading a good book and it felt like in no time at all I would be finished with it. Once I finished a book I would immediately begin a new one, or so it seemed to me as I look back to my earliest years as a student.
Drifting back to my assignment, I remember that every student in the class had to read at least one book a week and write a book report on it which included a summary and your opinion of the book. Any extra book report a student created was to be considered extra credit, resulting in a higher class grade. To further encourage the writing of book reports, the school would hold a biweekly assembly for each grade in which prizes would be given out for completion of a certain number of book reports. The student with the most books read would receive a special prize at the end of the year. It was from this competition that my love of reading emerged.
I soon discovered that the quickest way to complete a book and write a summary about it was to read books in series. This gave birth to my infatuation with a children’s series known as the “Boxcar Children” by Gertrude Warner. The book is about, as one of my reports stated,
Ã¢Â?Â¦four children who were raised by their old
Grandfather, they go on journeys in search of excitement
And try to solve mysteries and hidden secrets along the wayÃ¢Â?Â¦
After reading the first couple of books in the set, I became attached to the characters. Every weekend I would rush home and go to the library or bookstore to read the newest release of the next book in the Boxcar children book series. With the completion of reading each new book I would finish a book report and start a new one.
Thinking about the Boxcar Children’s book series, a thought dawns on me. What made serial books such as this one so appealing to me? Serial books always made me feel a special connection to the characters. I got to know each character by name and description, what their favorite things to do were, their favorite expressions, what they liked to eat. Childish as it may seem, these characters seemed like literary friends to me. I felt like I was right beside them as the characters went through each mystery in each book.
At each school assembly I became accustomed to hearing my name read aloud as one of the students who completed a new plateau on the book chart. At twenty-five books I received a certificate with a gold star, fifty books warranted a red ribbon, seventy-five a blue ribbon, and finally the goal I had long searched for, the magical one-hundred book mark. On that historic day in my public school history, a special announcement was made in the auditorium where I was called upon and used as an example of a model student. I was given a certificate and a brand new book I did not recognize by its title. At least several hundred pages in length and filled with dictionary type words, I rose to the challenge of reading my prized new book called The Apple and the Arrow by Conrad Buff. As the audience cheered, my heart swelled with pride at my achievement.
Looking back, was it really worth all the hard work, all the blood, sweat and tears? I may be exaggerating the blood and tears part but it does beg to ask the question, was it really worth it? I can finally answer the question with a resounding “Yes.”
One might say that the results back up my answer. Did my success with spelling difficult words on spelling exams that I had read in my books make my achievement worthwhile? Perhaps. Maybe it was the way some my peers looked up to me. Perhaps. I choose to believe that had I not developed a love for reading out of my elementary school experience, all of my work would have been in vain. Being read simple picture books as a small child by my parents only made me more curious about the world of literature I had grown up in.
I think that there is something to be said about the simple enjoyment of picking up a book and reading it for the first time as one feels when reading a book in a series such as the “Hardy Boys” or a great science fiction novel. Reading a book for the first time brings a sense of intrigue as the reader is uncertain as to what to expect from the novel. At any point in the story, a surprising twist can occur which can completely change the direction that the book was going in. While reading a book for the first time, your mind seems to race through and excitement must be contained so that not a detail is overlooked.
Without the influence of novels, where would I be today? The question begs an answer but one never knows in hind sight vision what may or may not have happened. I do know however that reading has helped me achieve better grades in school and has led me to Binghamton University to further my education.
I think of my life when I was that young child in elementary school compared to the young man that I see in the mirror, the very same one sitting nine hours at a computer desk. So much has changed yet, one constant has always been the passion I have for reading. Flipping through the pages of the latest John Grisham mystery novel on a dark and dreary night, I slowly find myself being transported back to a world I love, the world of literature.