Have you ever seen the light?

Have you ever seen the light that goes on in someone’s eyes after you’ve introduced them to a book that they ended up loving? That hunger (if they’ve not been a fan of reading before) that ignites when they understand exactly how much fun reading can be? The worlds that open up for them when they realize what they can get from reading?

When I hear someone say they don’t like to read, or that reading is boring, the first thought that goes through my head is “You just haven’t met the right book yet”. Generally after someone says that, I feel them out, trying to find out what exactly keeps them from enjoying reading, and if possible, suggest books they might enjoy. Most of the time its a lost cause, but I have to try. Its generally young adults who I hear saying this, who have grown up with tv and other electronic devices (internet, game systems) and with those people I feel like its almost pointless to even try to get them to understand the beauty of the written word. However, sometimes its because someone has some sort of learning disability/impediment and no one has bothered working with them because it’d be too much effort. Those are the ones you have to help! The ones that you can make a difference with.

For me, Ella is one of those people, and seeing the light come on in her eyes – knowing that I put it there – is one of the best things that I’ve experienced in recent years. Two things became apparent soon after getting to know Ella: that she was a truly beautiful person and that no one had ever tried to nurture her mind. It was blindingly obvious that they’d brushed her off as being “a bit slow” and that was that. In her fifties, Ella has the trusting naivete of a child just before they’ve learned exactly how much the world is out to get them. She needs extra time to understand things, and it took me a couple tries to find the best way to help her understand something. One of the reasons the way everyone seems to have brushed her off ticks me off is because she does want to understand. She wants to learn. At a time in her life when it seems like many people are set and settled in their ways, you can see the thirst in her for knowledge!

Now, you want to hear something almost boggling? This woman, who so many people had overlooked/ignored/brushed off, read “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins with me and I was able to engage her in multiple discussions about it!

How did this happen? I said “Hey, this is a cool book that I think is interesting, and it has a lot of good points in it. Would you like to read it with me?” (In the back of my mind I knew it was too advanced for her, and that I was setting myself up for a bit of a task in helping her get through it, but I had to make the offer. She instantly said yes. Instantly. A book that she’d heard me say I was having trouble getting through. That it was so wordy and complicated at parts that I had to re-read sections. She was so eager for knowledge that she lunged right at it, even knowing that. That’s all it took. Just. bloody. asking.

So did I have trouble helping her read that book? No. Was it a huge task? No. I gave her my hard copy (I had an electronic copy, too.) and told her to take her time. I made sure she had a dictionary installed on her phone so she could look up words she didn’t understand. Then, every day, I asked her where she was, and if she had any questions. If she did (and she always did), I talked her through it, putting his words into simpler language – giving examples and placing her in theoretical situations – until she got it. Our discussions were generally about 15 minutes a day. Bite-sized chunks. That’s it.

Today, actually, I was talking with Ella about the book again, and she told me “You know, no one ever took their time with me like you did. When you gave me that book to read, and I read it, its like… Its like my mind ain’t closed anymore. It ain’t so narrow. I can see stuff like I never did before.” Dude, I was ten feet tall and bullet proof in that moment.

Since “The God Delusion”, I’ve given Ella “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” (she loved it!) and “Fahrenheit 451”. After she’s done with 451, I’m going to switch her back to another fun book. I’m thinking “Good Omens” or “Year Zero”. Its obvious the light is on, and is going to stay on, now that she’s been introduced to how fun reading can be. It is awesome to see.

This is why promoting reading is so important. This is why reading is so special. This is why you should never be ashamed of the fact you like to read. A good book can change someone’s life. It really can.