The book that taught me why reading was a pleasure.
December 26, 2014
[Fifth in a series of articles telling the stories of how each of the top ten influential books made my list.]
IN THE FALL OF 1963, I entered the sixth grade. On the first day of school that fall, I was surprised to discover a number of new faces in the room. (It wasn’t due to integration, that didn’t happen until my senior year, fall of 1969.) The new students came from a small elementary school three miles north of our town. Their students joined us after the fifth grade and stayed (well, some did) though high school. Most of the students became friendly with me and several turned into good friends. One in particular influenced me more than any other. The result of his influence continues to this day.
Reggie Carter taught me to read.
Not literally. I could read when I started first grade. However, by the sixth grade, I had read few novels. Our school used a service (Junior Scholastics?) enabling students to order books. The first order I selected a book about science breakthroughs (which I still have) and a collection of stories by Isaac Asimov. Reggie ordered almost a dozen paperbacks oriented towards young adult readers. Two titles I recall now, Up Periscope, by Robb White and Swiftwater by Paul Annixter. The next day, after he had lugged home his purchases, I asked him about such a large number of books.
His reply shocked me. “I read two of them last night and started another.”
It was my first realization that people are doing things I had never considered. Prior to that, I had never considered finishing a book in one week, much less overnight. It had never occurred to me that someone would devote that much time to reading. I went home, did my homework, and watched television. And that was the rub for Reggie. His parents’ religion believed in avoidance of television. Reggie was raised in a home with no antenna on the roof. At night after homework, he and his three brothers read, and read, and read.
I wanted to read like that, too. He recommended Swiftwater. It took me more than one or two nights to finish it, but it was a significant read. I’ve never forgotten the story. The main character was a boy about my age thrust into manhood and adult responsibilities sooner than he deserved.
It was a story about father/son relationships.
It was a story of commitment, character, and integrity.
It was a story about love—boy’s love of family, nature, wildlife, and environment. It was a story of politics, greed, and prejudice.
Swiftwater represented the young adult genre at its best.
For a youngster about to become a teenager, it resonated with topics and issues I was about to deal with on a variety of levels. Two months later, the President of the United States was murdered, an event of primal intensity.
Psychologists refer to such happenings as significant emotional events. A sudden awakening of my desire to read and the death of the President both had major influences on my adult life, helping make me who I am today, an avid reader who believes that everything isn’t what it appears to be at first look.
Swiftwater isn’t only a five star book, it is a symbol and a reminder of that time in my life. If I had to rank my top ten influential books, it would surely be in the top five.
What book has had a significant emotional effect on you?
Who is the Reggie Carter in your life?
Please click the book cover image to read more about FCEtier and his novels.