Apr 4 2012

Thankful for Twilight

It’s pretty easy and popular to hate Twilight: the hundred year old guy who hangs around a high school, the vampires that aren’t affected by the sun, the sparkles, Kristen Stewart’s expression(s). But the fact is I’m actually thankful for the Twilight series–at least the books.

I have always wanted my children to be readers (actively choosing to read–not simply lacking illiteracy). I got one of the girls hooked on reading at age 6 by lending her my Calvin & Hobbes books. One day she proudly announced, ‘This is the sixth time I’ve read this book!” So I decided that she was ready for something bigger, and gave her Bertrand Brimley’s Mad Scientists Club. She acted like I gave her dish-duty. She complained a lot, but eventually read it.

“Dad, that book was awesome!”


The other child didn’t take to reading so quickly. She was 11 and still did not read for pleasure. Sure she sang and drew pictures, but I was obviously a terrible parent.

Then the Twilight books hit big, and suddenly she wanted to read, and she read the entire series. Now she reads regularly, and has polished off several much larger books, including Gone With the Wind. She has since professed a distaste for the girly vampire books.

In August of 1931 a 14 year old Forrest Ackerman–the man who would, among other  accomplishments, coin the term ‘sci-fi’–wrote a letter to Edgar Rice Burroughs regarding an argument he had with his teacher over what constituted ‘good’ literature. Two days later, the author of the Tarzan and Jon Carter books wrote him back. The excerpt below sums up my sentiments (emphasis mine):

“My stories will do you no harm. If they have helped to inculcate in you a love of books, they have done you much good. No fiction is worth reading except for entertainment. If it entertains and is clean, it is good literature, or its kind. If it forms the habit of reading, in people who might not read otherwise, it is the best literature.

You can read both letters in their entirety here at Letters of Note.

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Sep 21 2011

Most loved and overlooked

Probably one of the gifts I most appreciate–and most take for granted–is a gift that is quite common in the 21st century United States. Most people have it, it is free, and it is available to all. In fact, it is even imposed on a good deal of people quite against their wills–as it was with me.

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me how much I love books. I love shopping for them, acquiring them, repairing them. Of course I love reading them; the aforementioned verbs were merely symptomatic of a bibliophilic life. As I have mentioned earlier, some of my earliest happy memories involve books.

But it wasn’t always so.

Literacy was forced upon me in first grade. I had no desire to read. It wasn’t that I was proud of my ignorance or deficiency, but I simply didn’t realize I was ignorant, and wasn’t aware that I was missing anything. Learning to read was easy for me–too easy, probably. It unlocked nothing for me, solved no problems.

From the time I was three I was always drawing and always watching cartoons. Decades after I developed a genuine love for the written word, I would still denigrate writing as the dumb stepbrother of drawing. I remember in one of my many cartooning books the author had stated, “Good writing will carry bad art, but good art won’t carry bad writing.” It was the most heretical blasphemy at the time, but now so obviously true.

There was only one story that I cared about as a small child–The Legend of Sleepy Hollow–and that was because Dad told it to me. Right before bed. When I was three. I loved, and was terrified by, that story.

So when Mom gave me $5 to go take to the first grade book sale to get whatever I wanted, all I wanted was information, not stories. Specifically, information on snakes and dinosaurs. After that lack of literature, I would get my book choices supervised.

Still, Mom did do one very clever thing: she bought lots of children’s books, and then promptly did not make me read them. Just left them around the house. When we hit garage sales, action figures were maybes, but books were almost guaranteed to be approved (providing they weren’t about snakes or dinosaurs).

Tonight I started The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay. I’m still in the middle of reading The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes. As I write this I am flanked by a giant pile of books, two large bookshelves full of books (one of which I built), and in the midst of typing this I had to give in to the sudden urge to purchase Burton Raffel’s translation of Beowulf.

I realize that I owe a debt of gratitude to the following people:

  • My mom and dad
  • Mrs. Handley
  • Benjamin Rush
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Robertson Memorial Library
  •  Trails Regional Library, Corder branch
  • Mrs. Sheehan
  • Mrs. Redden
  • Mrs. Smith
  • Mrs. Alfino
  • Mrs. Craig
  • Any of you who have ever given me a good book

If you can read this, give thanks to God that you have working eyes and a working brain, and give thanks to the parent or teachers who taught you how to read, or how to read better.

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