Not long ago, in our Book Riot Slack (the greatest place on the internet), there was a discussion about The Lord of the Rings. Specifically, we were discussing our own histories with the legendary trilogy. I was amazed by the number of contributors and editors that read their parents’ copies when they were young or whose parents read The Hobbit to them when they were even younger. Me, I came to Tolkien’s masterpiece when the first of Peter Jackson’s movies came out. I was already in my 20s.
And because this is Book Riot, there was no gatekeeping. My later entry into this fantasy classic was not used to diminish my love for it or my place as a fantasy fan (even if I publicly quit The Wheel of Time). The bigger point that came to mind was this: It is never too late to become a reader.
A Wee Reader
Like most people, I don’t have my own memories of being read to as a child. To hear my mom or grandma tell the tale, I loved having Golden Books read to me. I would fetch these books, bring them with me as I grabbed a lap and enjoyed the stories. It was one of my favorite pastimes, so I’m told.
My earliest memories of reading were the Hardy Boys novels. My mom started working for Mid-Continent Public Library when I was 8. She would bring me book after book as I devoured them. A couple teenage boys solving crimes? Apparently, that was fun for young me to read. I can’t recall any particular story or even the first names of the titular characters, but I read a lot of them. I have other snapshots of reading in my memories. One of my grandfathers had a history of the Pearl Harbor attack. I tried to get on the Goosebumps train with my friends but didn’t find the books scary enough for my taste. I’m sure there were others.
Then came comic books.
I was in 6th grade when a comic book shop opened within bicycling distance. My friend Lloyd and I didn’t have much money, but we made regular trips to peruse and spend lawn-mowing earnings on comic books and comic book trading cards. All of the comic books I managed to buy only filled a shoe box, though I had binders of the cards. Complete sets. Long before the internet, I knew about different characters and big story events through these cards.
Then Lloyd moved out of state, and the reading drought began.
The Wordless Years
I don’t recall a single novel that I read outside of school through junior high, high school, and my first (and failed) attempt at college. I barely recall those books. The Scarlet Letter, Brave New World, The Lord of the Flies, and Great Expectations were among them. Books by women or people of color? Come on, this was midwestern public school in the ’90s. I wasn’t even aware of such diversity issues at the time. Though I do recall getting to see Maya Angelou deliver a commencement ceremony at a nearby college.
I liked the idea of being a reader, of consuming books for pleasure, but it just didn’t happen. I was in school, working part time, and busy with band, choir, and theatre. But of course, looking back on those years now that I’m a middle-aged adult, being busy takes on a different context. Nevertheless, I just wasn’t reading unless I absolutely had to. Despite my mom working for a big library system, she wasn’t a big reader, either. You wouldn’t have found books in her house.
At the time, I kicked myself for not being a reader. To be fair, at that age, I kicked myself for a lot of things. But I’m here to tell you, it’s okay to go through spells like this. Life happens. It gets tough or busy sometimes. Don’t be hard on yourself.
Comic Books, The Return
I was living in Kirksville, Missouri, attending Truman State University, barely managing to not get kicked out of the school. I was perusing the local Hastings when I came across their small comic book rack. Characters from my childhood were right there, fighting evil and dealing with personal turmoil. I grabbed a few issues, and the love took hold once again.
Soon, I was subscribing to 30ish titles every month, my best friend in Springfield, Missouri, picking up the comics at a shop local to him and shipping them up to me. I was spending money I didn’t really have, but I was reading comics again, which made me happy and helped me reconnect with my friend.
Still, I didn’t fully feel like a reader.
A Reader, Finally
I was 25 when I read my first adult novel just because I wanted to. A friend of mine had handed me a paperback of American Gods, claiming it was his favorite novel from his favorite author. I read it cover to cover. I don’t recall how long it took me, but I did it. And I enjoyed it. For the first time, I felt like a reader. I was living with my friends in Springfield, so I didn’t have the space to really collect novels yet, and I was still collecting comic books, but the obsession had begun.
Fast-forward 16 years. I’m 41. I read 50+ books each year in addition to comic books. I write articles here and I’m a bibliologist for TBR. I write my own books and poetry now. Maybe I didn’t start early, but I got there. You still won’t find books in my mom’s house (other than the ones I’ve written), but since she retired, she’s checking out books from the library. Maybe after staring at books all day, every day, she just didn’t have the energy to stare at them in her free time for 33 years.
Moral of the story: It’s never too late to become a reader. If it’s one book a year or 100, being a reader is something you get to define for yourself, no matter when in life you do it.