Libraries are like supermarkets for the soul.
I spent an hour one Saturday afternoon wandering through the tiny library that serves my community. I thumbed through the biographies and traced my fingers on the bindings of the history books.
Should I read about Eisenhower or Cronkite, African-American history or World War II?
A library is an ironic place for me to be because I’m not supposed to be able to read.
I was born with a condition called dyslexia. When I was learning to read, letters would jumble. Words somehow didn’t connect into sentences in the same way they did for other children.
When I was in third grade, my teachers said I just wasn’t trying. They sent home picture books for kindergarteners. Apparently, that’s what they thought I should aspire to.
People ask me sometimes, “What was the toughest time in your life?”
My answer is always the same: third grade.
Not losing each of your parents? Not suffering a sexual assault at age 12? Not losing your brother to cancer?
Nope. Third grade.
What made it so painful was I had two teachers who refused to see my potential. But, my mother knew better.
Each week, she would load me up in the car and take me to the Galesburg Public Library. It was an effort that changed my life.
We would walk through the children’s section, and together we would pick out “Dan Frontier” books and “Tom Swift” tales. I was transported far from the sterile hallways of Coldbrook School to magical realms of pioneers and scientists. The world became a more interesting place.
For at least an hour a day, my mother and I would read together. She would read one page, and I would read the next. My efforts were sometimes halting. But, my mother quietly encouraged me. She spoke softly as I struggled and never scolded. And she never compared. She just cared.
I steadily became a better reader. Within two years, I was in the top reading group of my school.
Much credit goes to my mother, of course, but credit also goes to Janice Candor, my fourth-grade teacher. She saw my potential and worked to develop it.
Today, I read four newspapers every day and at least one book a week. I have a master’s degree. I can’t imagine a world without printed words.
However, Americans are reading less and less.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2003 to 2018, the average amount of time that adult Americans spent reading for personal interest per day fell by six minutes to less than 16 minutes per day.
That’s just sad.
Bookstores are closing. Libraries are disappearing. Newspapers are struggling. Somehow the joy of reading isn’t being instilled as it should.
I thought about that recently as my three daughters returned to school.
My youngest entered third grade this year; I pray her year is better than mine was.
On a recent Saturday, I saw my 11-year-old with her nose in a library book. I asked her what she was reading about.
“I’m reading about a girl,” she replied, “growing up in India when it became two countries.”
I saw the sparkle in her eye as she explained what she had learned. I had to smile.
Reading is nourishment for the soul.
Editor’s note: Scott Reeder, a veteran statehouse journalist and freelance reporter, can be emailed at email@example.com.