A Story about Words

I remembered this story the other day. Its one about me, so feel free to bugger off if you aren’t in the sharing mood. My parents had a weird way of getting me interested in books, but I’ll be the first to admit that it worked. When I was young, like unable to read young, my dad went through first the entirety of The Hobbit with me, then went through the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, with all the voices. The voices were important, and he’d do different voices for each major character. My mom tried to do it once or twice when dad worked late, to her credit, but if I recall correctly that wouldn’t cut it. The voices had to be there.

Its one of the earliest memories I can still dredge up, him sitting on the bed and reading to me until I fall asleep. Its a task that has been taken over by Wil Wheaton, Neil Gaiman, and anyone else who has narrated an audiobook. Either way, that’s pretty formative on a young brain.

They followed this choice up with another interesting one. Throughout most of my childhood, if we went into a book store I could usually get a book to read. A brand new book! Every time! There were conditions, however. They had to approve, though I don’t think they ever didn’t approve if I justified it at all. Maybe if I were picking up erotica or something there would have been an issue. The other rule was that you had to have finished, or be very near finishing, the previous book. There was now an incentive to read, so I did. I read a heck of a lot. I remember in an early grade, I think it was grade four? Either way – in some early grade around that time the school I went to had a thing where each student had to read a certain number of books a month, I think five, and they would record it on these pieces of paper. Basically a low-tech excel sheet. It would be the title of the book, author, and number of pages. Then over the course of the academic year, you’d just keep handing these in and getting new ones. I think you lost marks if you didn’t read enough. At the end of the academic year the school had an assembly where, amongst other things, they announced who had read the most. They started with third place who had read something like 90 books. Second place had read around 120. Then the announcer had to announce who had read the most, me, at 200 books. Now, its worth being said that these were mostly books at that reading level, so reading Goosebumps or whatever didn’t take much time. But seriously? Who does that? Who lets their kid do that? This must be why I’m so incredibly pale.

My parents decided to bump my extracurricular reading up quite a bit in difficulty. This led to some difficulty for me. I thought I was hot shit, that I had this stuff figured out. When reading a book like Dragons of Autumn Twilight, I thought it was just going to be more words and a longer story. It was more complicated than that. A lot more complicated. There were new words, strange words, long multisyllable ones that I didn’t even know how to pronounce. Now, I’ll be the first to admit I can be proud at times, so I didn’t want to ask my parents what every second word meant. That was an inefficient way of handling things.

I had been given Dragons of Autumn Twilight on the drive out to my grandparents place. They lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere Saskatchewan. The did have, however, a beautiful bookshelf in the front reading room. This bookshelf had both dictionaries, and it had encyclopedias. I decided that If I was going to up my young person game, I’d read those. That was how you learned words, in the dictionary, so I read the dictionary. Front to back, word after word. The problem is, that’s not how brains work. You don’t process words like that.

To this day, there are still all sorts of words that I know, or will bubble up in conversation that I don’t know how I know, and I sometimes even get wrong. All because I decided to read the dictionary.

P.S. I did read the encyclopedias they had after that. They were out of date things and focused a lot on mythology and legends and the like. I wonder what had happened to those? Either way, my plan worked and after the dictionary, I could read damn near anything.

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