Reading that opened the world to me


Opinion: Columns

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John Stanger

The real purpose of books is to trap the mind into doing its own thinking.

Christopher Morley

Because of the encouragement I received from my family and teachers, I became a bookworm when I was a schoolboy, and the habit has continued to this day.

When I was in grade school, I enjoyed reading the sea stories written by both Armstrong Sperry and Rafael Sabatini and the baseball stories written by John Tunis.

I also enjoyed biographies of historical figures, the western novels of Zane Grey, the books by Alexander Dumas and Victor Hugo, and the early novels by Mark Twain, written before tragedy turned him into a cynic.

Other authors I liked were Richard Halliburton, Roy Chapman Andrews and Martin and Osa Johnson.

Halliburton took me to many countries and fantastic places in The Complete Book of Marvels, and Andrews introduced me to China, Mongolia and other Asian countries, while the Johnsons allowed me to explore Africa. I learned most of my geography from these authors.

I also owned books and my family owned many books that were housed in our home library alcove.

My home away from home was the Oak Park Main Library.

At that time, people under 12 were not permitted to borrow adult books, so my friends and I were stuck in the children's section. My big day came when I was able to show a note to the head librarian written by my English teacher proving that I was 12.

Some words that I came across while reading were beyond my knowledge when I was in grade school, so I tried to figure out the meanings by how the words were used. Many times I would become frustrated, and I would skip the word and continue reading. I was too lazy or too proud to use a dictionary.

There were also words that I couldn't pronounce, so sometimes the stories made little sense. I swallowed my foolish pride and asked members of my family to help me, and they did.

I received a Webster's Dictionary for Christmas when I was 10. My grandmother taught me how to use the pronunciation key and how to phonetically sound out a word. The light went on in my head and a whole new world opened up to me. I still occasionally browse through dictionaries because I find etymology to be an interesting study.

In my early teens I started reading encyclopedias — not just for the information they provided but for pleasure. My family owned the complete set of Funk and Wagnall's encyclopedias, and I pored over both this set and a set of World Books that I received when I turned 14.

My reading wasn't confined to books, however, because my family subscribed to the National Geographic, Time, the Saturday Evening Post, Reader's Digest and the Tribune.

Reading has affected me deeply. Books have broadened and enriched my life and given me greater understanding of my fellow man.

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