Anyone Can Become a Reader…

I had a fascinating encounter with a fellow in the neighborhood park last week.

Like me, he came to kill time, though I’d brought my mini computer with the intention of getting some novel critting done. He had nothing but a basic cell phone (his contact point with his employer). He looked to the gathering of baseball players in the hopes of something to entertain him, but instead, we got talking about books.

It started with my new mini as I explained what I use it for, but when he asked me what I wrote, after I told him, he said he wasn’t much of a reader. He mentioned a foray into fiction (he does read non-fiction) and why it didn’t work for him.

I talked to him about some of the novels that had captured my attention in my childhood, and about Lion’s Blood which I’m reading now. I talked about my difficulties getting into it until I realized what type of book it was–an epic rather than plot-driven story where the focus is absorbing the reader in the society and relationships so that when the cracks appear in the social structure the reader understands the significance more completely. I compared it to Clan of the Cave Bear, mentioned Tale of Two Cities (and noted that I’d read it as a tragic romance so didn’t have the problems other readers seemed to), and both how I had read romance novels since high school and how they’d changed from simple candy to books with more depth. For his part, he talked about how a coworker encouraged him to read Animal Farm and how he’d been given Steinbeck in high school.

I can’t remember the last time I had such an open discussion with a non-reader. He never let the conversation fall flat just because he hadn’t found much of value in the fiction world. We talked a bit about his venture into beer-making and finally whiskey because he found a how-to book at a yard sale, but mostly we talked about fiction.

So on a whim, using the example of my childhood library exploration that ranged from romances, to literary fiction, to philosophy, to anthropology, to whatever, I suggested he give himself the chance to find something he wants to read. I suggested he go to the library and choose five books from different sections. Take those home and try them out. If they don’t appeal, he didn’t have to read them, but if he did this enough times, likely he’d find something to enjoy. I also suggested Cyberpunk when he said Louis Lamour wasn’t gritty enough for him.

These are random conversations. I don’t expect people to break through their habits. I certainly don’t make life changes every time I meet someone who thinks differently than I do.

But here’s the thing. His employer called to be picked up, and as we said our goodbyes, he asked for my website so he could check out my writing. I gave him a business card, but still without much expectation. Then as he was walking away, he turned back and said that he planned to give fiction another try, that I had made it sound so interesting just talking about my favorite books that he wanted to see what he was missing.

Wow! That’s so cool. And it says something. It says that it’s never too late to catch the fiction bug as long as you’re open to it.

People talk about meeting someone at a convention and just talking to them as people, at which point they can become interested in reading what you write, not because you “pitched” it, but because they can see from your enthusiasm that you really believe in it. I guess I just did that with the whole of fiction reading, and I hope he does find something to appeal.

So many potential readers are lost because they never see the whole of what’s out there, and it’s wonderful that I may have helped some stranger discover the world of reading. When I was a kid, I got it into my head that what I’d been doing before first grade wasn’t reading (the teacher didn’t believe I could read), and so the world of reading was contained within Dick and Jane. That was such a horrifying thought that I stopped reading all together. My report cards are full of worries about my lack of reading.

My sister broke me of that by forcing Narnia, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Anne McCaffrey on me. I’ve never looked back.

It seems somehow poetic that I might have had a chance to pass that favor along to someone who had given up on fiction for many more years than my sister would have tolerated. Though I have no expectation of such, I think it would be wonderful if, presuming he does find something interesting to read and checks out my site, he leaves me a note to tell me the end of this part of his story :).

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