Of Storytellers and Book Readers

For the past several weeks my messages have been based on Karen Swallow Prior’s book On Reading Well. The focus of each message was about virtue and the way fictional literary works help to teach us by illustration about the nature of virtue. The series is over, but it did give me cause to reflect on something which, for me, precedes the love of books and that is the love of story.

I’ve already confessed that I was not an early reader. I struggled as a child and shunned books in favor of playing outside as often as possible. And yet I loved stories, just not from books as a reader. The credit for inspiring a love of stories in my young life goes to a few family members and teachers, who managed to capture my attention through the gift of storytelling and reading out loud.

My mother’s oldest brother had a gift for storytelling. He brought to life tales of my parents, aunts and uncles from an era I could never know, their own childhood. They were depression era kids, who grew up poor but didn’t know it because everyone else looked and lived just as they did. Later they went to war.

Knowing that my parents were kids once fascinated me. And the freedom they had as they roamed around the main street and back roads of small town America in a wholesome gang of family members and near-family friends made my own neighborhood rambles seem rather confined by comparison. On the other hand, they all took jobs to help make ends meet, while I and my friends were free to play whatever sport was in season without a care for how the mortgage payment would be made. The answer was in the lives of those kids my uncle told us about, who just happened to grow up to be dull (by my standards) adults.

My maternal grandmother was the first person I can recall who ever read to me. The story selection was from a well-illustrated children’s book with nursery rhymes and fables. My grandmother’s voice was calm and pleasant and I suspect she was careful in her choice of stories she read to me before bedtime so as not to excite my imagination too much to avoid the chance for any bad dreams. We were always protected.

Other book readers of precious influence were a few of my grade school teachers. The reading followed noon recess from which we emerged hot and sweaty from participating in my favorite pastime, play. The classroom lights were left off on sunny days to invoke a peaceful, restful atmosphere. We were told to keep our heads down on our desks in a semblance of taking a nap. Then when we were all behaved to the fullest extent possible, a chapter was read and the magic began again as children our own age were the heroes of adventures of which we could only dream of.

My love of stories was further fueled, but by television, not by books until I matured enough to be patient enough to read a book for myself. I love a good story, which – like my grade school experience – involves people I can identify with. Sci-fi and morbid thrillers fail to make the reading list. Dependence on a superhero or high tech mechanics to reach any type of conflict resolution is a book which remains on the library bookshelf.

I love a good story and I love those people from my past who helped instill a literary affection within me. 

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