The following is a guest post by R.M.A. Spears. He is a U. S. Marine, now retired. He was Ripper-2 in 2003 for the initial attack into Iraq. Now, he is a real estate investor, runner, re-modeler, and will always be a reader. He is the author of Armor of Glass: A Novel.
I was taken aback and pretended not to be offended. I was in the office of my new insurance agent and I was flipping my head back and forth from talking with him and his secretary seated in a different office that I could see through the door. You never know what someone is going to say about anything when you open up to being friendly, which frankly, is a new experience for me. I learned too late in life I needed people around (damn). In the Marines, you had some friends and acquaintances and then you moved every two to three years and men don’t stay in touch. They are too tough for that-especially jarheads.
“Uh,” she said, “I wouldn’t have thought you read because, you work so hard, you are so busy.” That turned things around in my mind a bit because I was wondering since my jeans were dirty and my jacket tattered if she thought perhaps I was stupid. I had to shift my reply to accentuate the thought that “working hard” was a compliment but that it took on many forms.
“I get up at four in the morning- that is the only way I can find the time. I read at least twenty pages a day and can’t do without it.” I don’t let being a slow reader stop me, sometimes I read a hundred.
And then I told her about my book.
When I decided I was going to write a book, in the same mental spasm, I instantly knew I had to read more. That was well over a dozen years ago. Sure, I read professional books, I read on airplanes, I read when I was out of town, but I did not systematically read and did not have the need. Now, I had to read to learn, to get a feel for building characters, story flow, word-smithing, what was allowed or disallowed, and in the process. I found I could NOT stop reading and the fact I was stuck on a commuter train with nothing else to do for two hours a day when I was assigned in Dallas, I started reading everything that had been sitting on my bookshelf for the past twenty years. I worked too hard, worked all the time, I could not sit and do nothing. So I read.
Yes, you caught me red-handed. I read. I read for fun, I read for education, I read to get smarter, I read to steal ideas from others, I read about the financial markets, I read to learn about the lives of rich and famous people, I read to try to understand why the hell English teachers in high school made me read Catcher in the Rye and The Hobbit.
Yuck to both, but I read them again to verify why I didn’t like them the first time. No wonder kids don’t like reading. I lift weights for physical therapy, have it programmed in my schedule. Reading exercises and expands the brain.
Our educational system is failing because they do not understand their audience. Math classes should teach kids how to understand math in terms of money. And English classes main mission should be to get kids to like reading, reading of any kind, not dissecting sentences, and laboriously wading through painful chunks of Shakespeare, Beowulf, Moby Dick, and Pulitzer Prize-winning puke (which is not dissimilar to the huddled masses’ disagreement with Oscar-award winning “Best Pictures” that regular people never saw or cared to see.) I wasn’t assigned and did not have to read To Kill a Mockingbird in junior or high school, so I didn’t. It was so misrepresented, I never wanted to read it. As a kid, young adult, and later, I hated reading. It was exhausting instead of enlightening. But for a classic, To Kill A Mockingbird, I said be damned and forced myself to read it anyway just two years ago. And?
I loved it from the first page. The young child’s voice captivated me, not the whole southern-racist trial bit widely expressed as pivotal in the book. You could see that coming a mile away. The book was great and so was The Great Gatsby. And I love The Jungle, Slaughterhouse Five, A Brave New World, All Quiet on the Western Front, Cannery Row, Killer Angels, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, A Message to Garcia, The Autobiography of Mark Twain and so on. Damn you, Mrs. Lane, for not turning me on to any of them when I was a sophomore in high school.
There are still books anointed great by the micro group literati that I can’t stand, but I started them and tried to push to the end to see for myself. I am beginning to detest YA (young adult) books, as if they at that age have some youthful, more intelligent heroic bent. I read limited sci-fi, too much dystopian, did not like The Alchemist, The Giver, The Secret, or One Hundred Years of Solitude, Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, or American Pastoral. But, I had to read them to know I didn’t like them, my God-given right. You don’t have to be a lemming. Make your own well-read mark on the world.
And I read on.
My mind is open. I read for continuing education, to get smarter each book I read. I read to keep my mind active and alert.
On the back of my door is a graph I stole from someone online that shows that thirty percent of people never read another book once they graduate high school. Forty-two percent of college graduates never pick up a book again. Seventy percent of families have not been in a book store in the last five years and eighty percent of adults have not purchased a book in the last year. Reading an hour a day for seven years in a given field makes you an expert. So, now I am an expert on reading.
And I read for money. Yes, money.
Rich people read, so I read.
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