Stories (and other places)

Do you remember the first book you ever read?

Me neither. But I know some people who do.

For reasons too boring to relate, I spent the winter of '96 / '97 in a small hunting camp, not paying much attention to the world. I cut pulp wood or hunted in the daytime, and read or wrote at night. Once a week, I made a trip to town, and always to the public library.

As winter turned to spring, I read The Inferno by Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle (1973) and Greg Bear's Forge of God (1987) - both books about catastrophes that befall the Earth from outer space.

Then, one night, I stepped outside a looked up to see an unexpected star. I'm not great with star maps, but I knew there shouldn't have been a bright light right there, about 40 degrees off the horizon, south-southeast.

If I'd been paying attention to the news, I would have known I was looking at the Hale-Bopp comet, first spotted two years earlier. It passed near enough to Earth that we could see the icy tail.

But I didn't pay attention to the news. I was reading science fiction. And what I saw was a dinosaur killer, maybe the end of life on Earth.

The power of books, of the written word, never fails to surprise me. It shouldn't. I've been reading for as long as I can remember. But it does.

Reading is....

Well, anyway. Helping people read is a big deal.

Helping somebody unlock words, discover texts, is magic. I remember adults who read their first book with me. I remember adults who, though they could read, hadn't become comfortable enough with reading to recognize metaphors or understatement or sarcasm. I remember being really excited one time when an adult learner suddenly got the joke behind a double meaning.

I read Bear's Forge of God again this past week. Once again, I found the first half exciting, and the second less satisfying. (Like so much sci-fi, Forge too often collapses into long maudlin passages with characters philosophizing about God and death and other Big Questions.) But it reminded me of the night in 1997.

And that reminded me of the wonder and power of the written word, and the times I've been able to be near somebody from whom reading is still so very new.

And that reminded me of why I work in adult literacy.

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