Learning to Read

Anything is Possible in Fiction.

  I’m diligently working away at the first book in my fantasy series.  While the story I am writing is uniquely mine; all the books I’ve read before have influenced my ideas. The books I loved showed me what to aspire to, but the ones that left me less than satisfied showed me things too.  This post though is about the first book I ever read, and the influence of its author on me, A Spell for Chameleon, by Piers Anthony.

  I was twelve years old, in the sixth grade at West Millbrook Junior High School, in Raleigh, N.C.  My father had tried, without success, to get me to read anything besides the comic books I loved so much.  He had a small library at home that I had full, if unappreciated, access to, and literally no desire to explore.

  One day I picked up a different Piers Anthony book that seemed to have an interesting cover.  When I asked my father about it, he said it was a great book, but it was part of a series.  If I wanted to read that one I should really start at the beginning.  I hadn’t even known books came in a series like that.  The cover for Spell for Chameleon was almost as interesting anyway.

  I started reading.  It was not as easy to turn the pages in a print book as in an issue of Spiderman fighting the Hobgoblin, but once I started reading, I couldn’t stop.  It took me almost a month to read that first book, and I learned a lot more than just what was in the pages.  I like to think I had a good vocabulary and reading comprehension, but I still had to look up some words, and research what other things meant.

  I read the book in the early ’80s, so there was no Google, Alexa or Siri to answer questions on demand.  That meant a dictionary, encyclopedias at school and the most dreaded source for information, my dad.  He knew I was reading at least, and that made him happy.  I wasn’t thrilled that he had been even remotely right, but I digress.

  The next book took about three weeks to read — the one after that took about two weeks.  By the time I neared the end of the series (up to that point) I was able to read a paperback novel in about a week.  I am slightly dyslexic (more with numbers than words), but there were few tests for it when I was young, and no practical treatments existed for me.

  The important take away was that I could read.  I and started to learn.  Not the lessons from school, but a whole body of knowledge beyond the sugar cube castle projects and wrote arithmetic I hated.  I learned about places I’d never heard of, people I wouldn’t read about in school for years to come, and adventures that made Luke and Han seem tepid in comparison.

  It also set me on the path to writing, one that I have found my way back to after years of neglect.  I feel like crafting a good story and sharing it with others is living my best life.  I couldn’t have done that without joy reading those first books gave me.

  I had the author of those first books to thank for that.  He has continued to write that series along with others, some I enjoyed some I did not.  If you have never read any of the Xanth or Apprentice Adept series, I highly recommend them both.

  Perhaps I was bound to read something I liked eventually and go on to read the hundreds of titles I’ve devoured since then. If I had not enjoyed that first book, or had half a dozen more to read in the series while I found other authors to experience, I might not have become the reader or writer I am today.   For that reason alone, I owe a great debt to Mr. Anthony.  Of course, I also owe Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, Frank Herbert, and Harry Turtledove thanks.  None of them got me started on this path though.  When I’m published (whenever that may be) it will be because of those who showed me the infinite possibilities books represent.  Perhaps I will not be a great light for humanity, but at least I will be a true follower of my chosen path.

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