One Good Book

I graduated from my high school with little problem and I had never read a book. I remember picture books about dinosaurs and a few Young Readers books and I was done. The library had plenty of Coles Notes for any book ever assigned in class. In the real world I had sports and sunshine and adventures, who had time for a book?

The book was “The Bourne Identity”, a cheesy pulp fiction genre piece. I was enraptured. It took me to a place I had never been before, and I have never looked back. I was, by now, in my twenties and already married.

I was telling this story to my son Benjamin one day and he turned to me and said, “Dad, that happened to me. It was the Hunger Games.” For my oldest, Nathan, it was “The Chronicles of Prydain”. One good book was all it took to make three literary primates into lifelong learners. All three of us now work in literate fields. Two of us write. All have been to university. Before that one good book I never considered anything beyond the world of blue-collar jobs and meniality. Neither of my parents had graduated from high school. I’m from peasant stock.

We go for breakfast and discuss history and cosmology. I am blessed. My youngest, Matthew, reads like a madman. He knows more about World War Two history than his teacher. We talk about Leningrad. My life is normal too, this is just something I stumbled into.

My father watched the discussion and then wanted in. At 76 he is back in university. I believe in the power of literacy, and not just as opposed to illiteracy. Some people cannot read but many more choose not to read. This is a form of illiteracy that few talk about. Electronic culture continues to fundamentally alter how we think, where we spend our time, and how we communicate. The numbers of people who do not read are legion.

I am pitching this to a literacy group and you are reading the pitch. As a clinician I witness the effects of this illiteracy every day. Mental health is strongly tied to one’s capacity to receive and implement information which is often complex and unfamiliar. Without regular positive input from people smarter than I am I may just be damning myself to a life of unrealized potential. In a multi-sensory world of shortening sound bytes, fewer and fewer people are reading works of substance.

The story of my family is not our story alone. The solution to this acquired illiteracy lies in awareness and education, like so many things. The difference here is, winning is so easy. Books are addictive and like all addictions you only need a few to be hooked. Most of us come in the door through trash novels, but that’s ok, those things are fun. Nothing is more pleasant than a great story in your ear buds on a sunny day. Just get people in the door, then give them a few good books. We need to get books back into people’s lives in a world spinning out of control. Books with pretty colours, electronic books, audio and picture books. I think I would call it One Good Book and interview my kids. Or your kids. Or whatever. Christmas presents, birthday gifts and dates to the library, stir in a play and a concert. Go to Belgium.

That first book led to other and better books and a different way of thinking about the world. I will always be grateful to Jason Bourne, that super spy, ninja, special forces, amnesiac. That was one good book.

So what book was it for you?

14 thoughts on “One Good Book

  1. I’m glad you wrote this. I am not a reader but love to learn. Hate to read college books, but love to learn. I have started learning some new perspectives on different beliefs and cultures. If I’m ever in your field of work, i will need it. Did read a story recently called Little Bee, which pulled me in. I think if i can find writers like that one, i could read more for pleasure.
    Thanks again for your post!

  2. All books by Guy Gavriel Kay, a Canadian treasure!!! The man is a master at character development and weaving in layers and layers of meaning. I love all his books but a good entry point may be Tigana. All are available as audible books! Let me know what you think!

    Lynn You don’t have to be dead to move towards the light! Lynn Mills 3645 Holland Ave Cobble Hill, BC V0R 1L3 H: (250) 743-5588 C: (250) 715-7640


  3. Comic books. I learned to read on comic books and they made me believe the world could be a better place.

    My first ‘real’ books – Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys (I borrowed my brother’s). Those obsessions turned into “Heavy Metal” magazines (if anyone remembers those) and Sherlock Holmes, and I still like those genres. I was quite an introvert and loved to read. Anything really except for bios for some reason. I love the odd, the quirky, and the honest and real, in almost any genre.

    I wanted to thank you for the audio book you have me last time me met up. I hadn’t tried that before and thought it was a great way to ‘read’. Thanks for sharing!

  4. One good book? I love reading and writing, but I can’t really place my hand on which book did the trick. Or maybe I’m yet to lay my hands on the book that will spill me to the next level.
    I love your family story as relates to one good book.

  5. I am finishing university, 2 exams left., At 31 yrs old. I am ridiculed every day by younger students who tell me to have children and go home because it’s too late for me. After mom dying and years of depression and anxiety, not being able to attend class,books have been my allies when everybody ran away. Kudos to your father and me and all the warriors battling the odds every day. Keep on writing, I come here for inspiration. I’ve been reading since childhood, 5 friends series by Enid Blyton, over hilarious Sue Townsend, self help by Jorge Bucay and classics like Salinger. Right now it’s A road less traveled by M.S. Peck, next one Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Essays in love by Alain de Botton. Looove books:)

  6. I love Bourne Identity. I read the entire series. I became hooked on books in a Free reading High school class. The teacher enticed me with The Little Prince, Bellevue a state of Mind, I never Promised you a Rose garden and many others that led me to become a Book-aholic. I better understood my addiction when friends posted pictures of their bookshelves. I realized I had more book cases than most people had bookshelves. I keep growing my library at used book sales. Books have done so much to help me with learning to live with PTSD. Fortunately, I had a counselor with an extensive library that he guided me to some key books that changed my life.

  7. “The Black Stallion” My elementary school teachers wouldn’t allow me to read any more horse books, so I stop reading, until I reach middle school. “Lord of the Rings” I struggled with reading (dyslexia) and quit again during high school, reading only required material. Then I hit college and discovered other Sci-Fi-Fantasy like “Sword of Shannara.” Books took me anywhere I wanted to go.

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