By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
I was sitting in a waiting room the other day, reading a book on my Kindle, perfectly content and engrossed in the story. A woman next to me was fidgeting and antsy, alternating between chatting to anyone who would listen and pacing the floor. Finally, she looked at my Kindle and asked, “What is that?” I explained the concept of the e-reader and how convenient it is to carry around hundreds of books in a small device. She stared at it, shrugged her shoulders, and said, “I don’t read books. You’re lucky to have something to occupy your time.” She doesn’t read books?? I have previously met people who have no interest in picking up a book, who think the Cheesecake Factory menu is great reading. I feel sorry for such people. They are missing out on the magic of being transported to another place and time, the escape and education that can be a part of reading a good book. I thought about her comment. Yes, I AM lucky that I love to read. But it had nothing to do with luck – I had help and encouragement along the way.
First, my parents viewed reading as an important skill. Of course, they owned and published a newspaper for many years, so they encouraged everyone to read, especially if it was the Novato Advance. Our home was filled with books, and I cannot recall a time when they didn’t each have a book by their bedside. My second influence, like many people, came in the form of great teachers. In grammar school we were fortunate enough to receive the Weekly Reader, a magazine that published every Friday and contained fun stories, games and cartoons. Mrs. Larson, my fifth-grade teacher, started a book club in her classroom. We ordered books and when they arrived, we gathered around a table to unpack the box. I still recall how excited I was to get a new book, especially if it was a Nancy Drew mystery. She taught me how to read a book, about topic sentences, and themes.
But the greatest influence on what and how I read was my high school English teacher, Bette Reese. Until I landed in her class, I was a middling student. I was more focused on boys and socializing than schoolwork. Ms. Reese was a task master, constantly correcting grammar, spelling and composition. She taught me about symbolism and metaphors and introduced me to Hemingway, Camus and Dostoevsky – pretty heady stuff for a high school junior. Her teaching philosophy was to teach to the highest standards. If some in the class got left behind, so be it. She wanted to instill an appreciation for good writing and classic authors. To this day I credit her for my distaste of romance novels and sci-fi fiction. I can’t speak for everyone who was her student, but I do know that she influenced a great many of us. Two years after I left high school Ms. Reese took a professorship at a local college. She eventually became the faculty advisor to the student newspaper, where no doubt she used her magic on many aspiring journalists. Sadly, Bette Reese died in 1979 at the age of 44 from pancreatic cancer. I wrote a piece about her for a Marin County site and received many comments from former students who were similarly impacted by her. Each year the college awards the Bette Reese Memorial Scholarship to a talented journalism student. I can only hope they are maintaining her high standards.
So, am I lucky that I love to read? Undoubtedly so. I can be entertained anywhere as long as I have a good book to read – airports, waiting rooms, even on the treadmill. And nothing is more soothing to my soul than to curl up in bed on a cold night, my husband and dog beside me, engaged in a good book. My friend, Patsy, introduced me to the Libby app, where I can download books for free from the local library directly to my Kindle. A love to read and free books? Now that is luck.