Sunday, June 16, 2013

What My Father Taught Me About Reading

My mother has always been the one who really reads. The fact that she influenced me most as a reader is indisputable. She taught me to read by age three, and some of my earliest memories are of trips to the library with her, stopping at the cemetery on the walk home to rest and read on one of the concrete benches there. I always checked out the limit (ten books), but I would get into trouble if I checked out titles and didn’t finish them. My mother seemed to think it it was greedy -- that I was depriving others of the chance to have the book while I wasted it. 

So, I finished them.

That's me in the middle, no doubt thinking about acrylic plastic.

My father, on the other hand, isn’t so much of a book person. He’s smart, all right, and he does read, but while I was growing up, my main memories of my father reading are of him reading the newspaper. (When I got a little older, I’d catch him reading my copies of MAD magazine, too.) He was a huge fan of Pogo, a cartoon whose politics went over my head as a child, but I still tried to read it, because I knew he liked it. I loved the inventive use of language -- like a code that I had to solve.

Early on, though, my father was a big supporter of my reading and my writing. He always bragged about my reading to anyone who would listen, and recognized me as a force to be reckoned with. In response to one of my blog posts recently, Dad posted this on my Facebook wall:

“When Kelly was almost 5, she walked into my bedroom and asked me ‘What is acrylic plastic?’ She was holding the Knoxville News Sentinel. I knew at that moment that we were already reading equals.”

Pogo: Fun fer everybody what's a frog.

Dad was in the aluminum siding business when I made a hand-drawn comic book featuring a superhero made out of aluminum. Alu-Man #1 was one of my greatest triumphs, and Dad was its biggest fan, taking it to work to share with his friends and co-workers. My mother was livid, and made him stop. She was worried that one of my characters -- a large woman with a bouffant hairdo -- would upset the secretary at my Dad’s office. (She was a large woman with a bouffant hairdo.)

My favorite memory of my father and reading is far more serious than Pogo or Alu-Man, though.

He was sitting on my bed talking to me, his 6’ 6” frame dwarfing my little room with its yellow chintz bedspread. I had massive amounts of books for a third grader, and he glanced through them, then picked one up and held it out to me. It was Tom Sawyer.

“Promise me you’ll read this some day,” he said.

“Okay,” I shrugged. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I remember asking my father to promise to read my favorite book at the time: The Wednesday Witch.

I doubt he read The Wednesday Witch (That’s okay. It’s not exactly in my top ten anymore.) But I did read Tom Sawyer. And The Count of Monte Cristo. And David Copperfield. And on and on. To this day, while I read mysteries and humor and comics and shampoo bottles and whatever is around, I still come back to the classics.

See, in a room filled with Richie Rich and Hot Stuff comics, Trixie Belden mysteries, and every Scholastic monster book printed in the early ‘70s, my father spotted the one diamond in the pulp. His message is clear now, even if it was lost on me then:

“Make sure you read the good stuff.”

Thanks, Dad. I do.


  1. This is SO sweet! Your dad sounds like a great guy.

    I remember my dad used to always talk about Lothlorien and other Lord of the Rings places with such awe that I couldn't wait to dive into them and spent 2 months in 2nd grade picking my way through The Hobbit.

    Great post!

  2. This is a wonderful story. Everybody in my family read, and since I was the baby, I couldn't wait till I could read for myself. Don't think I was reading about acrylic plastic at five, but I did and do enjoy the classics - though often I compare them to today's market and wonder if some of those bloated monsters could possibly be published today.