Willing and Eager Reluctant Reader by Don Calame
I am an incredibly slow reader. I am a word by word reader. I might even be a syllable by syllable reader. It makes me an excellent copy editor of my own and others’ work but, sadly, it does not make me the gulper and gorger of books I would like to be.
Don’t get me wrong, I love reading. I always have a novel on the go because I’m absolutely passionate about stories. I have the groaning, sagging bookshelves to prove it. It’s just that a not-insignificant portion of the books I own are on the “definitely, certainly, positively going to get to someday” list.
Whenever I glance over at the shelves it hits me that at my book sipping pace I’ll probably need a few more lives if I’m ever going to read all of the tomes currently in my possession. In fact, if I think about it too much I get depressed knowing that I will “definitely, certainly, positively” never read everything I want to read before I take my leave of this planet.
There have been times in my life when I have gotten very strict with myself. Thinking I could threaten myself into reading faster. Times where I’ve promised myself not to buy anymore books until I’ve caught up with the ones I already have. But these promises inevitably prove impossible to keep.
So I continue to buy stacks of books, reading many while setting aside just as many for “later.”
I wish it were different. I wish I was like my wife who can sit down with a book in the morning and be finished with it by midday. I wish I was like an old friend of mine who claimed to be able to read two lines at a time — TWO LINES AT A TIME — with perfect comprehension, like some kind of amazing savant reading machine.
But that’s not me.
I read and I get sleepy. I read and my eyes get tired. I read and I get distracted.
It’s infinitely frustrating and yet I always return to reading novels and short stories because I am addicted to narrative, am in love with a well turned phrase, am thrilled when I read something that makes me think, “yes, that’s exactly what it’s like to be utterly humiliated, to feel inferior, to taste something divine, to fight with someone you love, to see something that takes your breath away, to be completely exhausted, to be addicted to something, to be heartbroken!”
These are the things that keep me coming back to reading again and again despite the fact that, along with the great joy I get out of the written word, there is an equal amount of work, determination and focus that I need to put into the process.
It’s the same with my own writing. I thoroughly enjoy sinking into my imagination, allowing a story to saturate my being so that I am thinking about it, pondering the characters and their world, when I am away from my desk, driving in my car, wandering the supermarket aisles, drifting off to sleep. However, to get to that deep imaginative place there is always “ the before.” The struggle, the distractions, the procrastination, the self doubt, the feeling that I am carving each word in a block of stone, the fear that I will never really get started and then, once started, will never reach the end.
I haven’t been officially diagnosed but I would venture to guess that I have some mild form of attention deficit issue. Or, if you ask my wife, maybe not so mild and also, perhaps, rather than being an attention deficit issue it might be more of a perpetual immaturity thing. On the other hand, perhaps it’s just that my attention span has been incrementally chipped away by years of television watching, movie going and video game playing.
Whatever the reason, I suspect that, growing up, I was in real danger of become a book hater. A reading despiser. A very reluctant reader.
But I didn’t and instead became not only a book lover but a book writer as well.
I suspect there are many reasons for this positive outcome— several wonderful teachers I had throughout the years, the amazing librarians at my school and local library, and, perhaps most important of all, how reading was modeled to me as a child at home.
In my house reading was presented as something pleasurable, something to be enjoyed, something cozy, something to get lost in, something to sneak away to. My grandmother and my mother were always reading for enjoyment. After dinner, on the weekends, at the beach, by the pool. We were not encouraged to read because it was “good for us” or would “help us be better students.” We were encouraged to read because it was fun.
And that, I think, is the key. The subtle shift that pushed me from reluctant reader to eager reader.
When I was very young my mother always read books with us before bed. It was cozy time. It was loving time. I still remember lying on the floor with her after the day was over — teeth brushed, face washed, pajamas on, stuffed animal in hand — and reading all of my favorite books by light of my Winnie the Pooh lamp: Dr. Seuss, Richard Scary, Maurice Sendak, A.A. Milne, E.B. White, Roald Dahl. When I got older books became what we put on our birthday wish lists. C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, Lloyd Alexander, Douglas Adams. And then, of course, there were the plethora of books that were always lying around the house for anyone to pick up. Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Tom Clancy, Peter Benchley, Scott Turow.
These stories were engaging, exciting, interesting, funny, entertaining. And that is what got me hooked on reading. What has kept me hooked to this day. Great stories. Fascinating characters. The understanding that a book provides a richer, deeper, more entertaining experience than you can get from a television show, a movie, a video game.
Don Calame’s mission in life is to get teenage boys to love reading. Well, that and to teach his dogs to do laundry and clean the bathroom. Two goals that have more in common than you’d think. Don is the award-winning/award-nominated author of four novels Swim the Fly, Beat the Band, Call the Shots and Dan Versus Nature. He is also an accomplished screenwriter who has worked with Universal Studios, Marvel Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, Lions Gate Entertainment, Village Roadshow Pictures and the Disney Channel.
Don grew up in New York and now lives with his wife and two dogs in British Columbia.