I looked down at the minuscule hand that was jabbing the corner of a hardcover picture book into my abdomen. I stared at my kindergarten buddy’s hopeful face and took the book from him warily. We sat down in a corner of the classroom and he lifted his legs to his chest, resting his chin on his knees anticipating the beginning of a story. I looked from the book to his expectant eyes and then back again. I finally cracked open the cover of the book and started to tell him a story. Yes, I told him a story, but I did not read him one.
It was the fourth grade and every month our class met with our kindergarten buddies to read to them. Every month I made up my own new story to hide the fact that I couldn’t read. It was that same year that I was diagnosed with a learning difference.
They called it slow processing speed, telling me it takes my mind longer to understand new information. It wasn’t until the end of that year when I finally learned how to read.
That said, I didn’t particularly like reading. In fact, I despised it. I remember dreading the days where our class would take turns reading the textbook out loud, bracing myself for the laughter that was bound to come when my turn came around. I stuttered and stumbled over my words, often repeating the same lines over again. I can’t remember the amount of times that I heard “Just sound it out.”
It wasn’t until eight grade when I stumbled upon the book that would change my life. My mother gave it to me; she said it was her favorite book when she was my age. It was called A Tree Grows and Brooklyn and it was written by Betty Smith. It sat on my shelf for a while, alone, no other books accompanying it. Until one day, I decided to pick it up. I don’t remember what compelled me to come back to this book. I might have been bored, I might have been frustrated by my poor reading skills, but I opened the front cover, took in the smell of printed pages, and started to read. I didn’t stop.
I fell in love with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It was so easy for me to relate to the protagonist; it was as if she knew exactly how I was feeling and what I was going through. Every spare moment I was reading that book. It felt as if a hand had sprung out of the pages and pulled me in, enveloping me in this new world. It took me about six months to finish A Tree Grows in Brooklyn but when I was finished, and closed the cover and clutched the book in my hands, a sorrowful feeling came over me. There were no more pages to turn; no more story to devour. It was in that moment that I knew that I needed more books, more tales to dive into, more adventures to explore.
From that day on, reading has morphed into something that is so essential to my life. It is my passion; it is what makes me tick. Reading used to be my most arduous and avoided activity, but now it is the thing that shapes my life. If I have had a bad day at school or am under a lot of stress, nothing calms me more than slipping into a good book. I am still a slow reader and sometimes reading can still be a challenge, but all of that struggle pales in comparison to the amount of joy that I get from a book.
I keep almost all of the books that I have read on my bookshelf. I don’t organize them by authors’ last name or by genre. But I put them on the shelf in the order that I have read them. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the first. 591 others follow.
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