Like most writers, I grew up loving books. But while I have always loved books, I haven't always loved to read. I believe I was nine or ten years-old when I got my first library card. This was a big deal for me. No longer did I have to go to the library with my mother. I can't tell you how embarrassing it was for me to wait in line with my mother, while other kids checked out their own library books. I could practically feel their eyes on me. "Look at the little baby. He can't even check out his own books." When I was of age--it may have even been on my birthday--I walked to the library with my best friend, Lawrence (who was still too young. Poor kid.), and applied for my very own library card.
The feeling of elation I had leaving the library that day was like none I’d had before. A bridge had been crossed. I was practically a grown-up. Each week I went to the library accompanied by Lawrence (poor little kid), and checked out six books, the maximum allowed. The following week I would return the books and take out six more. I strolled around the children's section of our local library like I owned the place. I was a big kid. And soon my sites were set on the day I would be allowed to check out books in THE ADULT SECTION. After that I knew it was marriage and a job and children of my own. I couldn't wait for the next milestone in my life--to be a thirteen year-old.
But before I turned thirteen something happened that changed me forever. I was packing up my six books, getting ready for my weekly trip to the library. Lawrence was waiting for me outside. He was still too young to check out his own books. Perhaps I'd throw him a bone, and let him read one of mine (poor little, baby kid). Just as I was about to leave, my father stepped into my room and said: "Going to the library, huh?"
My chest swelled with pride. "Yeah, it's about that time."
"Did you read those books?" he asked pointing to my stack.
"Yes, of course I did."
"No you didn't. You skimmed them. I've been watching you. You haven't read one book cover-to-cover."
Cover-to-cover? Who reads like that?
"Tell you what," he said. "This time you get just two books. And you READ them. And you take them back ONLY after you've read them both."
Oh, the outrage! Dad was raining on my grown-up parade. Didn’t he understand going to the library was about more than reading? But I was a dutiful son. So after making an excuse to Lawrence as to why a big kid like me would only be getting two books (he was still getting none! Poor little baby, child, kid), I went to the library and checked out two lousy books.
I don't remember the name of the second book, but the first was called Horse On A Houseboat. It was an ancient little kid’s reader with just enough pictures for me not to feel overwhelmed. It was the first book I ever read cover-to-cover, and I LOVED it. Thus was born my love of reading.
Reading transported me from our South Bronx apartment to other states, other countries, other worlds. Lawrence never developed my love of reading (poor guy) and eventually we drifted apart. My life, my career, has been built on the foundation provided by my love of reading, my love of books. I have often wondered how my life would have turned out if my father hadn’t stopped me that day, or if I’d hated that first reading experience. Fortunately for me it happened the way it did.
On the eve of the publication of my first YA novel, Never Slow Dance With A Zombie, I hope that my book falls into the hands of a reluctant reader somewhere, and it spawns a love of books.
My dad passed away March 2008. He did not get to witness the publication of my novel. However, he did witness how a love of reading grew me into the man I am today. All I can say is, thanks, Dad.