When I was in school–many, many years ago–I hated to read. I would do just about anything other than read. From third grade until graduation I can only remember one book I actually completed: A Bullet for Stonewall, a historical fiction book about an assassin seeking to kill Stonewall Jackson. If I remember correctly, I read that in sixth grade. For whatever reason I signed up for Advanced Placement Literature my senior year. While I passed the class, I never finished reading any of the assignments. I tried to read one of the books: Grendel, but I only succeeded in reading half.
My lack of desire for reading was not lost on my teacher Ms. Miller. While she was young, she was not an idiot. I thought I was pulling fast ones on her, while I now see she was using my fast ones to pull off her own shenanigans. Slowly, over the course of the year, I began to see the value of books, though the value was not necessarily for me. I was about to find out just how wrong I was.
The last week of the school year (I failed my AP Lit test), Ms. Miller gave gifts to all her AP students. Books! Fabulous! She purposefully picked out books she believed the student would enjoy, each receiving their own with a special message from her. Some received books like Jane Eyre or To Kill a Mockingbird (you know, a classic); I received The Fall of Freddie the Leaf by Leo Buscaglia, a kid’s book! Here I am–eighteen years old–and I get a children’s story for a graduation gift. She must have known I was a bit embarrassed, and so she said something to the effect that she knew I didn’t like to read, but she really believed I would enjoy that book.
I took it home and read it. So good! One of my favorite quotes was when Freddie’s tree was being carved by some children. While I would not agree with the final premise of the book (as I was a conservative evangelical pastor’s son and am a conservative evangelical pastor myself), I was flabbergasted at the gentle nature of death presented in the book. About week and a half later my dad died. While I was in pain having lost the greatest man I’d ever known, I was also at peace knowing there was nothing to fear, and that death was a gift and stage of life. That book brought me to the realization that books have value…especially to me.
Since then I have loved to read. I don’t do as much reading as I’d like or as I should, but I greatly enjoy it. I do find it amusing that I am not a fan of fiction, as The Fall of Freddie the Leaf was indeed a fiction book. I read fiction, but very little. Non-fiction engages my mind and opens my eyes in ways fiction never has been able to do. But I do give credit where credit is due. I thank Leo Buscaglia for writing such a wonderful book and I thank Ms. Miller for buying me a copy and encouraging me to read it despite my embarrassment.