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Allan Emerson's Blog


Have you ever known someone who doesn’t read fiction? Not because they can’t read, but because they’re just not interested, or don’t have time.

When I run into someone who says they don’t read fiction, I have to fight the urge to try to convert them. I can feel the fervor rising in me as if I were an old-time street-corner preacher:

Brothers and sisters! Fiction expands your horizons, entertains you, fills idle or lonely moments, primes the pump of your creativity--hallelujah!--gives you an emotional experience you might never otherwise have. It makes you think and gives you a passion to share with others—it’ll heal you! Can I have an Amen!

Mostly though, I just smile and nod.

I have a confession to make here: I used to think anyone who didn’t read fiction wasn’t … well, wasn’t too aware. But when I kept running into smart people I respected who didn’t read it, I was forced to face the possibility that maybe fiction just isn’t for everyone. It seems there are people who don’t get twitchy when they’re getting to the end of a novel and they don’t have another on their night table. Or who don’t go into withdrawal when they realize they have nothing to read in the house that they haven’t already dog-eared. Not me. I’m fiction-addicted and I don’t want to be cured.

It started when my parents gave me an illustrated book of nursery rhymes, when I was five or six. I knew the rhymes and said them while looking at the pictures. Then one day I noticed all these black dots beneath the picture of Old Mother Hubbard and asked my mother what they were. A moment after she told me they were the words to the rhyme, revelation dawned. If the first word in the rhyme was “old,” then that first clump of dots must mean “old.” And the next had to be “mother,” and so on.

“I can read,” I cried to the heavens, like filmdom’s Dr. Frankenstein when his monster came to life (yes, I know, he screamed “It’s alive!” not “It can read!” but you know what I mean.) Actually, of course, I couldn’t read; if a word in my memorized version differed from the printed version, I couldn’t tell. But I’d recognized the essential thing—the connection between the symbols on the page and the words of the rhyme. I can still remember how excited I was by that discovery.

I started school shortly after, and eventually found out how to arrange those clusters of dots to express an idea or tell a story. Now I read non-stop (unless I’m writing), and usually have two or three books on the go—everything from literary to genre. I read while I’m watching TV, waiting at the doctor’s office; in bed, before I go to sleep.

Do you still remember learning to read? Was the experience connected with a particular story or poem?

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