From an early age, reading has played an important role in my life. When I was younger, I had a horrible stutter. I couldn't put four words together without a block or a stammer, so I tended to stay pretty quiet. I found refuge in books and I was a voracious reader. Every Saturday my sister would take me downtown to the old Omaha Public Library. The library is long gone, but the building remains and everytime I drive by that building I have to smile.
To an 8-year old, the old Omaha Public Library was a cavernous, crypt-like place. You walked in the door and once you entered the main room, you took a quick left to the Children's Room. That was my domain. If my memory serves me correctly, we were only allowed to check out 10 books at a time and I recall pondering and fretting over which books would make the cut that week.
Checking the books out was a serious thing for me. The concept that an adult would entrust me, a mere child, with the responsibility of removing these books from the library to my home was hard to grasp. And I did not take that responsibility lightly. The Library Books had a special place in my room far away from my personal books. I made sure I knew where they were at all times. If I found a book that had a ripped page or folded corner, I made a note to tell the librarian about it the following Saturday. I didn't want to take the blame for someone else's carelessness.
When I was about 10, I had a "coming-of-age" moment. I ventured from the Children's Room into the main library. It was a whole new world for me and somehow felt...forbidden. I remember pouring through the card catalogue (and getting a paper cut or two on my fingers while doing so.) I'd find books on wonderful topics that I wouldn't have dreamed of finding in the Children's Section. I don't know if I was old enough to check out books from the main library, so I may have had my sister check them out for me. Funny. Some kids try to get their older siblings to buy cigarettes or beer for them...I talked my sister into checking out books. That's the kind of kid I was.
In the main library, the books were larger and harder to read. So instead of checking out 10 books per week, I was only checking out 2 or 3. I read wonderful biographies, adventure stories and every book on animals I could get my hands on. Yes, I even checked out a book or two on magic. The books that were hard to read gave me an excuse to use one of my favorite tools...my dictionary. My vocabulary increased along with my reading skills.
My love for books and reading has stayed strong throughout my life. I can't remember a time when there wasn't a book on my nightstand. Of course, my tastes have changed over the years. I went through a "James Bond" phase and read every Bond novel and story that Ian Fleming wrote. I tried desperately to become a Stephen King fan, but certain elements of his writing just rubbed me the wrong way. I've read biographies of amazing, people like Charles Fort, Houdini and P.T. Barnum. Currently on my nightstand is the collected stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe. I had read some of his works back in high school and college, but I had forgotten how terrifying and morbid many of his stories are.
Yes, I have a deep love for reading and I want to encourage that with children today. That's why I offer a "Magic of Reading" show to schools. That's also why I promote reading and using the library in my Summer Reading Program shows. In retrospect, I know that those weekly visits to the library really helped me become the man I am today. I just hope that I can help inspire that love of reading, books and libraries into future generations.