I looked down at the minuscule hand that was jabbing a hardcover picture book into my abdomen and took the book warily from my kindergarten buddy's grasp. We sat down in a corner of the classroom and he rested his chin on his knees, anticipating the beginning of a story. With a sigh, I cracked open the cover of the book and told him a story. Yes, I told him a story, but I did not read him one.
It was the fourth grade and every month our class met with our kindergarten buddies to read to them. And every month I made up my own new story to hide the fact that I couldn't read. A learning specialist called it slow processing speed, saying it takes my brain longer to understand new information. It wasn't until the end of that year that I finally learned how to read.
That said, I didn't particularly like reading. I remember dreading the days where our class would take turns reading out loud, bracing myself for the laughter that was bound to arise when my turn came around. I can't recount the number of times that I heard "Just sound it out."
In eighth grade I stumbled upon the book that would change my perspective on reading: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. My mother gave it to me; she said it was her favorite book when she was my age. It sat on my shelf for a while, alone, gathering dust. Until one day, I decided to pick it up. I took in the smell of printed pages, the feel of crisp parchment, and started to read. And I didn't stop.
I fell in love with this book. It was so easy for me to relate to the protagonist; it was as if she knew exactly how I was feeling. It felt as if a hand had sprung out of the pages and pulled me in, enveloping me in this new world. It took me about six months to finish A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but when I was finally done and clutched the book in my hands, a sorrowful feeling overcame me. There were no more pages to turn, no longer a story to devour. It was in that moment that I knew that I needed more books, more adventures to explore.
Reading has morphed into an essential part of my life. It used to be my most arduous activity, but now it is the thing that shapes my life. I am still a slow reader and sometimes reading is a challenge, but that struggle pales in comparison to the amount of joy that comes from a book.
I keep almost all of the books that I have read on my bookshelf. I don't organize them by authors' last name or by genre. I just put them on the shelf in the order that I have read them. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the first. 591 others follow.