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  • I know how it started, this love of reading that I have.

    I cannot remember not being able to read. I was raised with the ability, even almost felt I was born with it. In first grade I pissed off my teacher to the point where she would hold flash cards upside-down when it was my turn to read off words to the class, just to slow me down. But that was not when I fell in love with reading.

    That happened in the second grade. I went to a small school that had an even smaller library, housed in a converted janitor's supply closet and only large enough for maybe five children to be in at a time. And once a week we would get to walk in there in small groups, usually dismissed by rows, to choose books for our personal reading.

    I was working my way through something very important: the Hardy Boys Mystery novels. To my second grade mind, these books represented the pinnacle of accomplishment primarily because the space they occupied on the shelf looked so enormous. They were all hard bound and covered in a plastic brown substance almost the color of shit. They had to be important. And there were so many of them. And they were numbered. I would always know where I stood with this project of reading them I undertook.

    But somewhere along the way, maybe about book 12, I started to realize something. These damn Hardy Boys always had the same things happening to them, in every book. The bad guys were always eventually catching the boys, who never seemed to be smart enough to just call in the police. But then the boys were always getting away just in time to spoil everything. I was pissed. These books had fooled me. They were not a huge collection of different stories; they were one story simply being retold a bunch of different ways. I rebelled the only way I could think of.

    Further down on the shelf was a small piece of masking tape that had been sitting on the wood for so long that it would no longer peel off, and on that masking tape were the words “American Literature”. I had no idea what any of that meant, but I know that I pulled two books off of that shelf: The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe, and The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne. To this day I could not tell you how much I got through those books. I had to look up almost every fifth word in Hawthorne, which launched me on my next project of reading the dictionary for fun (there are things in a dictionary a second grader should not know). And if you have ever read beyond Poe’s best known stories, much of his less accessible work has almost no plot or story.

    I was hooked. These were things I couldn’t figure out, much less predict the plot of. I quickly picked up a few lighter things like C.S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, and the addiction was on. To this day I think the worst of it was my first read of Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon, while in high school (there are things in Gravity's Rainbow a high school kid should not know). I never realized how bad it was until, years later, I broke into my ex-wife’s house shortly after the divorce to steal back about thirty or so books she was not going to give me, but that’s a story for another day.
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