Banned Books Week- Day 4
Be a Reading Mentor to Someone!
In my Day 3 post , while talking about some of the banned and challenged classic books, I related my first experience reading To Kill a Mockingbird. The woman who gave me that book and encouraged me to read it was a neighbor, a retired English teacher, who whether she knew it or not, became a lasting influence in my life. When I talk about reading mentors, she is the example I draw from.
When I was growing up, books were not a big influence in our home. My father liked to read, but had little time for it. He loved mysteries and old Zane Grey western novels, but apart from their occasional appearance, the Bible and a rather hefty set of World Book encyclopedias, there were not a lot of books in our home. However, despite that, I was an early reader, reading far above my grade level in school. Library day at school was my favorite day, but it was frustrating too in a way, because I always wanted to venture past the “grade appropriate” selections I was supposed to be reading and see what lay beyond. Later, when I was able to venture on my own to our public library, and the selection was even wider, I was overwhelmed and lacked a sense of direction in my choices.
When I was 14 I met a kind lady, who loved books with a passion, had all the patience and willingness to share of a great teacher, and perhaps saw a willing and eager pupil in her midst. I had met her when I was going around the neighborhood for donations for some fundraiser, and when she invited me inside I saw the bookcases that lined her walls as well as other books scattered around and my eyes lit up at such a wealth of literary bounty. My reaction did not escape her notice and with a smile, she asked, ” Do you like to read?” . When I nodded, she asked what I had most recently read. I don’t remember what book I had been reading, but it hadn’t left much of an impression on me. She asked a few other questions, designed I suppose, to find out what sort of things I liked and didn’t like. Then before I left, she walked over to one of the bookcases and pulled a book from the shelf and handed it to me. She told me to “give this a try”. She gently admonished me to “take good care of it” and suggested that when I brought it back I could tell her what I thought about it. The book she handed me was To Kill a Mockingbird.
That book was the first of many she introduced me to. The first of many authors that I wouldn’t have been exposed to until far later- if at all- in school. She loved southern authors and exposed me to the world of Faulkner and O’Conner. She loved the dramatic energy of Steinbeck, and although she liked Hemingway‘s stories, she disliked his writing style. She loved to talk about books and the avenue of new ideas they opened up in the reader’s mind. She also loved the way books could open up an appreciation for history, because of the times and places they exposed the reader to- an appreciation I share to this day.
That woman, my reading mentor, passed away several years ago, but her legacy remains with me, and through me to my children and grandchildren who have all been exposed thoroughly to the wonders that can be found in the pages of a book.
My reading mentor is also the reason I first became passionate on the subject of censorship and book banning. It happened when she handed me her copy of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. She told me about the efforts to have it banned and discussed the irony of attempting to ban a book that was about banning and burning books. She said that books were knowledge and cautioned me to always be suspicious when someone was trying to withhold or restrict knowledge from me, because their motives were hardly ever entirely pure.
I will be forever grateful for the wide world this person opened up for me and for the ways she helped me in relation to pass that on. I encourage everyone to repeat her gift in some way, whether it be with your child, a friend, a neighbor or just a chance acquaintance. You never know what effect you may have on someone’s life.
Author’s Postscript: I read a letter by the wonderful Southern author, Pat Conroy after this posted. The letter, written in 2007 to the Charleston Gazette was in response to a student in Charleston, West Virginia who wrote to him regarding parents trying to ban two of his novels from being taught. His response is nothing short of brilliant. I urge you to read it and see if you don’t agree.