A Nerdy Boy

I must come clean. I get a little envious of the Nerdy Book Club Reading Life posts which fondly recall in beautiful, vivid detail the reading of books at a very young age. I wish I had that memory, but I don’t. Don’t get me wrong, I love books and I love stories, but I was a slow and late reader. Being a stocky, offensive lineman-type kid with a big smile worked wonders for me most of the time, but it did nothing to make sense of the words on the page.

Fortunately, I had parents; teachers and librarians who cared enough to stick with me through my troubles and see me through the long process of becoming a reader. Despite a couple setbacks here and there (like my stubborn-boy refusal in 8th grade English class to even crack open the assigned LITTLE WOMEN), I learned two very valuable lessons through my reading struggles. I learned the value of working hard and I learned that opening a book opens doors to new opportunities. I found if I wanted to learn something new or if I wanted to be or do something; there was a pretty good chance I could find a way to get it done from a book or magazine. Reading became the gateway for the dreams inside my head.

I know I may be preaching to the choir, but READING IS AWESOME. Reading helped me fight the stereotype of the big, dumb jock by providing the essential tool to bury the “dumb” and just be a big jock. Years ago, I was a shot putter. At the end of 9th grade, I wanted to learn the spin technique as I moved up to high school. I thought my body style could generate more power from the spin rather than the traditional glide technique. None of the coaches knew how to teach the spin, so I researched and found a five year old issue of Sports Illustrated featuring the great spin technique pioneer, Brian Oldfield. Using the words and pictures in the article, I taught myself the technique. Reading rocked from that point on. It gave me the confidence to expand my horizons and taught me there were no limits to what I could learn. Today, reading reaches into every nook and cranny of my life as a father, husband, scientist, coach and writer.

Some of the fondest memories of parenting are sitting on the bedroom floor with my three kids reading books at night before bed. The twins, recent high school graduates, and their older college sister had a discussion a few months ago about reading out loud the first three Harry Potter books together on that bedroom floor. Priceless times I would not trade for anything. The Hays family summer vacations to the lake devote more suitcase space to books than to our clothes and other necessities. Reading is one of the threads that have stitched our family together.

My wife is an awesome reading teacher, even when she is not exclusively teaching the subject of Reading. She’s taught middle school, middle grades, elementary, and now she teaches third grade. She has superpower influence over the kicking and screaming reluctant readers who come into her classroom. Kids who are stone-cold frozen to the very idea of reading books leave her room at the end of the year blazing hot readers. I’ve seen the joy in the eyes of these kids and in the faces of their parents as well. You can’t put a price on that.

Reading is an essential part of being a scientist. Science is built on reading and writing; we share information, theories and establish scientific foundations through these skills. Discovery is often a melding of ideas gleaned from several different sources and looked at from fresh perspectives. One of the joys of my science job at the university is the access we are given to libraries and journals in the digital age. Articles and information on virtually anything we are interested in pursuing is a mouse click away.

When I first started as a sports coach, I knew very little about how to coach. I had to devour books on coaching theory, technique and scheme to try and become the best coach I could be. The information is out there, one just has to find it, learn it, and find a way to pass it on to the players. I still do some strength and conditioning coaching, so I read daily in that field. I read articles, newsletters, blogs and research reports to attempt to stay on top of things. I would have been dead in the water as a coach if I failed to include reading in my coach’s arsenal.

I read more than ever now in my author life and I also enjoy reading more. Writing kid lit finds me reading as much kid lit as my time and budget allows. And book research? Can you really call something this much fun and this much a learning experience work? I hope I never get to the point where the research becomes a drag and the reading loses its freshness.

Maybe I started out late as a reader, but I was lucky enough to have people in my life that truly cared enough to help me through the rough patches. The Nerdy Book Club is right up my alley, I am so happy I found this group. I’ve grabbed the NBC button and proudly stand behind it. Thank you to all the members who share books and stories here on the site. The Nerdy Book Club blog email notification in the inbox is something I look forward to every day.

Read on nerdy friends!

Mike Hays is a husband, a father of three, a lifelong Kansan and works as a molecular microbiologist.  His debut upper middle grade novel, THEYOUNGERDAYS, was released in March of 2012 by MuseItUp Publishing. Besides writing, he has been a high school strength and conditioning coach, a football coach and a baseball coach.