In the excerpt from his autobiography, “Learning to Read,” Malcolm X talks about how the books he read opened up new worlds of understanding for him. That led me to think about the books that have made an impression on my life. Three books that immediately come to mind are Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther, and The Bible. Each book had a distinct impact at different points in time, growing up.
Listing a Harry Potter book is admittedly cliché, but it was the first book I ever read with gusto. When I was in elementary school, like many kids my age, I had an aversion to reading; my grades suffered because of it. The only way to improve your literary skills is through practice, and the best way to practice is to read a topic of interest. So at a parent teacher conference, my fifth grade teacher suggested I try reading Harry Potter, which at the time was quickly becoming a world phenomenon. My parents forced me to pick up the book, and before I knew it, I was enthralled with the story.
Having never been a proficient reader, getting through the book by myself was difficult, but the need to understand the story had me rereading every page. Harry Potter contained no profound, life changing morals but it did capture the imagination and ignited my passion for reading. What I had once associated with boredom and saw as a chore, I now actively sought out more, to the point where reading replaced watching television as a favorite pastime. Afterwards, the first books I would read of my own violation all had compelling stories, like Harry Potter, and the more I read, the less intimidated I was of reading. I no longer stuttered over big words, the need to reread pages diminished, and eventually I started branching out to other sources of literature, like newspapers, encyclopedias, scientific magazines and journals.
Today, I no longer need a compelling story in order to read, and I don’t read as many novels as I used to, but everyday, I’m always reading in my free time. I read about the latest break through in computer technology, or the newest theories published in Scientific American. I visit the New York Times website daily to keep up on the latest current events, and investigate any topic I find of interest, like the rise and fall of the American Auto industry. I can credit all of these aspects of my everyday life to Harry Potter, for if I hadn’t discovered a passion for reading as a child, something else would consume my everyday life today, like television, or video games.
The summer before high school, I came across Gunther’s Death Not Be Proud. It is a powerful memoir written about his son, Johnny. At the age of sixteen Johnny is diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, he dies fifteen months later. The memoir focuses on Johnny’s journey during those fifteen months, and his extraordinary willpower to survive. It is one of the most inspirational stories I have ever read.