Thursday, October 27, 2011


Mrs. Chapman, my fifth-grade teacher, had a worry. My report card carried a dire warning; "Donny can't read." My mom laughed. She knew I stayed up late every night reading my way through her collection of Laura Lee Hope's "Bobbsey Twins."

Mrs. Chapman didn't understand that I simply disliked reading aloud to the class. I flubbed it on purpose. Like a fool, I hoped she'd call on someone else. That was a childish response to a life challenge. It didn't work, either. She kept calling on me, hoping repetition would improve my reading. We finally came to terms when I fessed up to my duplicity.

Later that year, Mrs. Chapman asked me to create a bulletin board promoting reading. My award-winning, butcher paper design depicted an island, ocean, Nina, Pinta & Santa Maria. The Banner read, "Sail Into the New World of Books." Looking back, nearly fifty years hence, I'm quite proud of that board.

Laura Lee Hope taught me the combination of a book and my imagination were far better than any movie, and streets ahead of television. Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy rivaled Tolkien's books, it did not surpass them.

For years I thought of myself as a bibliophile--a lover of books. That image was shattered by a college professor who described himself as a bibliopath. Ooooo... I like that. My wife usually introduces me to her class as, "This is my husband, Mr. Patterson. He always has a book with him."

Thing is, writers read. They read for pleasure. They read for instruction. A writer enjoys reading, but every book is also continuing education in how--or how not--to write. My reading diet is varied, but my first love is always action and adventure. Fennimore Cooper once complained about the quality of a novel he was reading. His wife challenged him to write a better one. He did, catapulting himself into the American literary firmament. I came upon that naturally. I write what I desire to read.

This is an important point, because people often show up to our writers group who don't read. That's like a scholar who doesn't study, or a preacher who won't pray. It's oxymoronic. If you don't know the genre through personal reading you cannot write the genre without divine inspiration. To date, the Almighty has shown little interest in fiction. Don't take refuge in non-fiction, either, that list of God-breathed authors is short. You're not on it.

Want to write? Read.


Carol Anne Wright Swett said...

Just love this one! Makes me remember the teachers that influenced me beginning with my 2nd grade class going all the way thru 12th grade. They either stoked my love of reading or taught me a love for writing! A lot of homeschool families ask me about how to help their kids be better writers. You provided the answer!

Wonderer said...

Thanks Don! It just makes sense that all great writers begin as readers!