I attribute my love for reading to two different instances. The first is a faint childhood memory. I was lying on my bed, along with my brother, and our mother was reading to us. We are young – maybe five and seven respectively. Bedtime stories were an inseparable part of our daily routine, especially when it came to putting us to sleep.
My mother would often read us the Panchatantra. While listening to her, I would instantly drift to the mesmerizing worlds of ravenous hobbits and mystical elves. Even though the book was technically a children’s book, I would have probably never picked it up on my own. You cannot expect any better from a five-year-old, can you? To be honest, my fascination for those stories remains as vivid as ever, even though the plot itself has pretty much faded into oblivion.
You might call it the thrill of first love, for the following years saw a lull in my reading activity. At school, I excelled in English, but I invariably found myself going through the motions and absorbing pretty much nothing of the assigned reading. Nothing captivated me the way I remembered being captivated.
All that, however, changed in the eighth grade. I was done with our spelling units for the semester earlier than expected, so my teacher summoned me one day and told me that she wanted to assign me some supplementary work. In spite of the groan I let out inside, there was nothing much I could but accede to her request.
“I want you to go over to the bookshelf and pick up any book that you’d like to read. Then, I need you to write a report on it, which can be about any topic of your choice,” she said.
It was the first time in school that someone had given me as much as an option to choose my own book, and there was no way I was going to let go of that opportunity. I remember standing in front of that ceiling-high bookshelf for a good twenty minutes. I touched and felt different covers, pensively reading each dust jacket.
Finally, I went for the Betty Smith classic, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and proudly placed it on my teacher’s desk. To my utter delight, she appreciated my choice and urged me to go ahead with it.
And I was glad that I had made the right choice. I was absolutely in love with Francie and the Nolan family. In fact, I could actually relate to her adolescence. I even cried for her father – the first time a book had caused me to do so. Eventually, the book gave me a solid reason to reinstate the ritual – the reading ritual – in my life.
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