Did your mother have a pet phrase when you were growing up? Some sage piece of advice that was supposed to motivate you, but instead crawled under your skin like a maggot ready to tear at your flesh? Mine did. And, whenever I lost something, it popped out of her mouth as dependably as mosquitoes in summer. She’d wag a finger and, in a sing-song voice say, “A place for everything and everything in its place.”
Another phrase of Mom's rankled less than it motivated. So much so, in fact, that I used it on my own kids while they were growing up. Whereas most mothers respond to the kid complaint “I’m bored” with “If you’re bored, I’ll find something for you to do,” mine would say, “If you can read, you’ll never be bored.” Meaning that I should go find a book. Now. Or I might find myself manning a vacuum cleaner.
I don’t recall a time in my life that I didn’t enjoy reading. Even in pre-school days I would sneak into my older sister’s room and read her schoolbooks. At least I think I read them. Maybe I just looked at the pictures. After all, I hadn’t yet actually learned to read. The point is that I saw books as something to turn to for entertainment.
One of my fondest grade school memories involves my teacher reading books aloud to the class. Charlotte’s Web stands out in my mind but there was also A Wrinkle in Time, 101 Dalmatians, Across Five Aprils, and North to Freedom. Probably others as well, as every one of my teachers from kindergarten through sixth grade read to us. I well recall the feeling when, at the cliffhanger end of a chapter, the teacher would snap the book shut and say, “We’ll pick it up tomorrow.”
Speaking of 101 Dalmatians, did you know there’s a sequel, The Starlight Barking, in which humans mysteriously fall asleep, Cadwig the dog becomes prime minister, dogs can fly and communicate by “thought waves,” and Sirius, the Lord of the Dog Stars, appears from outer space to try to convince earth’s dogs to travel with him to the stars? Hey, Disney, when is that one coming out?
Of course, I didn’t stop reading after grade school. Science fiction dominated middle and high school years. The Adromeda Strain, Frankenstein, The Martian Chronicles, Time Enough for Love, War of the Worlds, The Hobbit, Dune, and many more fueled my imagination. College introduced me to such classics as Le Morte d’Arthur, Canterbury Tales, and The Inferno. I enjoyed The Inferno much more than its sequels, Purgatoria and Paradiso, proving the maxim that a good story requires conflict. I mean, how much conflict can there be in paradise?
The decades since college have taken me through a wide swatch of genres, including history, biography, historical fiction, fantasy, more science fiction, crime fiction, spy fiction, and thrillers. Most recently, I have immersed myself in the writings of Elmore Leonard, Craig Johnson, Jeff Carson, and Michael Connelly. With regard to Leonard, I have mostly favored the novels he wrote after pivoting from westerns to crime, notable exceptions being Hombre and Valdez is Coming.
So, hats off to you, Mom, you were right. If you can read, you’ll never be bored. And if you don’t like to read? Go find an audio book. Before my mother hands you the vacuum cleaner.
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