I’m not sure anymore when it was that I became a reader, but I think I know how it was that I became a reader.
As unlikely as it might seem, it was competition that first made a reader out of me.
One summer – out of boredom as much as anything – I signed up for the Ottawa Hills Public Library Summer Reading Club. I forget now how many books I had to read to claim the prize, and I even forget what the prize was. It was probably a piece of paper with the librarian’s actual signature.
All I know is that I had never before read so many books in such a short period of time. I rode my bike to the library each week, carefully selected seven or eight weighty volumes (I always caught my limit), and then rode home again, determined to make my way through them all.
I suppose I could have cheated by claiming to have read what I hadn’t, because no one ever quizzed me about the books, but I never did. I loved the reading. Truly, passionately, with everything I had, the same way I played sports.
For most of my childhood I longed to be an athlete, and I certainly had the size. From birth I was a big kid. And I certainly had the heart too. In fact, whatever sport I played, I always had a lot more heart than talent. I was always the kid on the sideline hoping to catch the eye of the coach. I must have yelled “Put me in!” a million times, and maybe I did wear him down a couple of times, when we were far ahead – or more likely when we were hopelessly behind.
Somewhere in high school I realized, sadly, that heart could only take me so far in the world of sports, and my athletic career came to an abrupt end. By the time I was 16, I was pretty much a sports has-been. But around that time another world opened up – a world of places and ideas and stories and mysteries. It was a world I came to through reading. And it’s a world I love. Even today.
When I travel, which is as often as I can, I like to read about where I’m going. Some people buy up lots of travel books – Fodor’s, Frommers, Lonely Planet – but I like to read what novelists have written. Travel books can only tell you so much. Really, who cares what the local currency is? Or what weather to expect in August? Or whether the voltage is 120 or 220? A novelist will tell you things that you never thought to ask.
When I traveled to Africa a year or so ago, I re-read a few novels about Africa that I had read as a young adult. What surprised me more than anything was that they all referred in different ways to the smell of the place, the smell of the continent. Who knew? Africa has a smell unlike any other continent. Try finding that in Rick Steve’s latest travel guide.
Which is a long way of saying that I’ve added a new feature to my blog – Doug’s Reading. If you look at the top of the home page, where you used to see only About Doug, Doug’s Church, Doug’s Books, and so on, you’ll see a new page. Click on it, and you’ll see what I’m reading (and occasionally what movies I’ve seen).
I can be eclectic in my reading, so be forewarned. My excuse is that preachers should be eclectic. We’re a lot like sharks, in that way, taking in just about everything in our way. If you preach every week – and expect to have something interesting to say by, oh, the third week – reading widely is pretty much what you have to do, like it or not. I like it.
And I hope you do too.