As writer-in-residence at the Regina Public Library, I was asked to give a brief speech at today’s launch of Regina’s annual Mayor’s Mega-Minute Reading Challenge at Jack MacKenzie School. And rather than ad-lib, as is my wont, I actually wrote something down (not that I read it word for word). Here it is:
Hi, my name is Ed, and I’m a writer.
I’ve written around 50 books of one sort or other, from science fiction and fantasy novels to science books, computer books and history books, for children, young adults and adults.
But I didn’t start out as a writer. I started out as a reader.
My parents loved to read, and I had two older brothers who also read a lot, so our house was always full of books. I remember practicing my reading with my mother by reading out loud to her. Since it was the King James Version of the Bible, I didn’t always have a clue what I was reading, but at least I was figuring out how to sound out words.
What really captured my interest, though, was science fiction and fantasy. Again, I blame my brothers. That was what they read, and of course I wanted to be like them, so that was what I read. One of the earliest novels I can remember reading was Revolt on Alpha C, by Robert Silverberg. It had starships and ray guns and all kinds of other science fictional goodness. I was a nine-year-old boy. How could I not be hooked?
But I didn’t just read science fiction and fantasy. I read everything, voraciously. History books and adventure books, horse books and dog books, classics and not-so-classics. In school I became known as the kid that was always raising his hand and class and then saying, “I read somewhere that…”
Because I read, I occasionally knew more about a subject than my teachers. (Sorry, teachers, but that is a hazard of teaching kids to read.) For example, I loved a series of English children books called Swallows and Amazons, which are all about kids sailing. I knew from those books that the “sheet” on a sailing boat is actually a rope that controls the angle of the sail. I had a teacher that told the class that the “sheet” was the sail. Naturally, I couldn’t let that stand, and the discussion grew…a little heated. But I’m sure, upon reflection, once she realized she was wrong and I was right, she appreciated my ten-year-old self for setting her straight. Although I admit she didn’t say so at the time.
Books transported me to places I could never have gone, real places, imaginary places, might-have-been places and might-yet-be places. They taught me about airplanes, aardvarks, auto racing, astronauts and apples–and that was just the A’s.
And somewhere along in there, because I loved reading, I got the notion I’d like to tell my own stories. One reason was that I sometimes couldn’t find the kinds of stories I really enjoyed reading. (You, oh most fortunate children, live in the Golden Age of fantasy and science fiction for children and adults; in my day such books were few and far between.) I thought, well, maybe I should just create my own. But I didn’t want to write just for myself. I wanted to write for readers: I wanted to tell stories that readers would enjoy as much as I enjoyed the books I loved.
And so, when I was 11 years old, I wrote my first short story, “Kastra Glazz: Hypership Test Pilot.” And my Grade 7 English teacher in Weyburn, Tony Tunbridge, did me the great courtesy of taking it seriously: he critiqued it, and didn’t just tell me that it was wonderful (which, in retrospect, it really wasn’t), he told me how I could make it better.
I’ve been writing stories ever since. I wrote three novels in high school (and passed them around for my classmates to read: rather brave of me, I think now), and kept writing them until, finally, I started getting them published.
But you know what? I still read. More than ever. Books, blogs, magazine articles, newspaper stories…I can’t sit still for more than a few minutes without needing something to read.
Reading led me to be a writer. Reading has led others to be doctors, engineers, scientists, architects, artists, actors. Reading opens up all worlds and all possibilities. It’s the foundation of learning, and believe me, you never stop needing to learn. I’m a bit older than any of you–just a bit–and haven’t been in school for a very long time, but I learn something new every single day, thanks to reading.
That’s the meat and potatoes of why it’s important to read. But here’s the dessert: reading is fun. Not only that, it’s fun that costs nothing, doesn’t pollute, rarely results in injury, usually won’t get you in trouble, and earns you brownie points with parents and teachers. What’s not to like?
Also, as a writer, I really NEED readers. Because otherwise, what’s the point?
So I urge you, as personal favour to me, if for no other reason: go forth and read!