How many things can you remember doing for the first time?
Your first kiss or first girlfriend, the first time you had a beer, the first car you bought, the first time you moved, your first job. There are probably a good 20-30 firsts you can really remember in your life. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think I have one first that I can remember better than you. You might have been like, 7 or 8 years old when this first happened but I was more of a late bloomer.
Growing up, there were a number of things I despised. I hated playing sports. I could watch them all day, but playing? I'd rather play the Game of Thrones with the Lannisters. I just wasn't any good at sports. I hated dressing up. I was not a fan of wearing stupid uniforms during my Catholic school years. I also hated nature, so no camping trips for me. But all of those paled in comparison to my hatred for one thing, the thing I hated the most.
I couldn't stand the damn things.
My favorite part in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was when the Nazis decided to burn books. OK, that was a joke, but you get the picture. I loathed books. I complained about them like I complain about Darcy Regier. I just never understood why anyone would read for fun. Why would I read Huck Finn or Lord of the Rings when I could see the damn things on TV?! Reading for fun???? Are you fu#ken kidding me?! It made no sense to me. Reading was too much work and TV was so much easier to digest.
I did everything in my power to avoid books. This isn't an exaggeration, but other than social studies or science textbooks, I read two books from kindergarten to twelfth grade. One was a 100-page book about the JFK assassination and the other was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. How did I manage to do those damn book reports? Easy. I asked someone what the book was about, and I read the summary on the back of it. I would also randomly read 10 pages at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. I would get a D in English and just really study hard in math so I could get that overall C average I aimed for.
So what happened when I got to college?
I still hated books and luckily, my field required very little reading and had more hands-on work.
So what happened when I got my first job after college?
Same thing. I read if I had to, but that's about it.
Finally, and for reasons I don't really remember, I decided to buy a book. It was December of 2009 and I was going back to Buffalo for Christmas. I hate flying and will avoid it at all costs if possible. If I can train it instead, I'm coming aboard. It is a long 7-hour odyssey to Buffalo, and I've been doing it since 2006. Normally, I'd bring a bunch of DVDs on the train to pass the time. However, there are only so many times I can watch repeats of The Sopranos.
If I was going to dive into an area that I'd hated for most of my life, I was going to have to go with a genre that interested me. So, I picked a wrestler's biography. I picked Chris Jericho's A Lion's Tale: Around the World in Spandex. I'd always liked Jericho's sense of humor and had read a few reviews on wrestling sites about how wonderful the book was. Even with those kind words, I was skeptical. I mean, a book? It didn't work the first 29 years, why now?
What happened next was a miracle.
Yes, I say miracle! For the first time in my life, I understood why so many people say "I couldn't put the book down." In the next seven hours (five on the train and two on my parents' couch after a quick hello to my mom), I finished Jericho's book. I don't care if you hate wrestling, if you like a bunch of crazy stories about growing up and having fun, Y2J's book is your guide. From the gut-wrenching story about his mom being paralyzed, to his stories on the road in Germany, Japan, Mexico and America, I felt like I was there with him. It made me want to grow up and be a wrestler, traveler, Canadian, drunk, and a victim of a crime. Like I said, I didn't read when I was a kid so this was shocking to me!
I was right next to Jericho when he was robbed at gunpoint in Mexico after making out with a girl in the back of her brother's car while driving through the mountains. I still remember how he described it. I'm paraphrasing, but he mentioned how he kept asking the girl where they were going, and she kept telling him to shut up and sticking her tongue down his throat. Moved by passion, right?
Next thing you know, the brother had a gun in Y2J's face. They robbed him and left him in the middle of nowhere. I still remember the story about how he was forced to buy weed for a wrestler. The drug dealer, working at a truck stop, pulled a knife on Y2J and made him buy crack instead. I still laugh at the thought of those stories.
And I hadn't even seen them on TV! The words came alive and my imagination did its thing with them.
After I finished that book, I went back to Barnes & Noble and picked up another book. It was Bret Hart's book. It was a little too long, but had some great stories. After that, I got Mick Foley's first book. Oh, what the hell? Why not buy all four of his books? Wait! I like wrestling, but I love sports! I love the Bills and the Sabres. Are there books about them? Yup, and I think I have all of them now.
After reading those, I wanted books that were going to tell me a story I've never heard or seen. That's when I decided to branch out of my Buffalo sports bubble. I wanted to enjoy the written word and just the art of story-telling. Yes, I thought it was the Internet, but the greatest invention in our history is the written word.
With that, I picked up Andre Agassi's book because Jim Rome wouldn't shut up about it. I couldn't tell you the last time I saw a tennis match, let alone gave a shit about one, but his bio was incredible. I was sold after 10 pages. To this day, it is the best sports book out of the 92 books I own.
(Editor's note: Andre Agassi did use a ghostwriter, J.R. Moehringer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. That's not to take anything away from Agassi, however. It doesn't matter how good your ghostwriter is if you're not going to really open yourself up and Agassi did that far more than most athletes do when writing their stories. As a side note, Moehringer wrote his own memoir, The Tender Bar, and it's terrific too. Highly recommended. -HB)
Yes, I own 92 books!
I'd own more, but I have to get through all of them before I add more. And then I have to buy a new shelf. I think I'm at something like 61 finished. OK, maybe that isn't a lot for some of you. And maybe some of you have books hanging out in your bathroom because you have so many of them. But for someone who didn't read at all for the first 29 years of my life, it is a miracle. I refuse to take books out of the library because I must own the book and it has to be in decent condition. Also, fuck Kindles! I want the feel of a book and the intelligence that spews out of it. I just discovered them, so I'm not giving them away for some sort of electronic device or app.
I'm also making the journey into fiction books as I bought the first four books in A Song of Ice and Fire which the HBO show Game of Thrones is based on. Like before, I was a tad bit skeptical. How could this book be better than the TV show, where I can actually see the violence? (Editor's note: And the naked bodies? Let's be honest here, Joe. -HB)
I can use my imagination when I read about Tyrion charging into battle and picture what he's seeing. I don't need a TV to let me see what is going on. Oh, and the books have scenes that aren't in the TV show! Smallish Books Spoiler: Did you know that the Hound has always liked Sansa? Or that Tyrion actually fought during the battle in the first season when the TV show had him getting knocked out by friendly fire? No, you didn't! But if you read the book, you'd know!
So, what is the message of this piece? Study hard and don't cheat on book reports? Fuck no. Earth science did nothing for me after high school. Party and goof off in school if you can. The message is, don't be too close-minded. You should sometimes give something a shot, even if you think you don't like it. We all grow up and find out there are things we have changed our minds about. Hey, I hated girls when I was 7-years-old (Girls? Yuk!) and now I love them. It happens.
You should embrace the activity, whatever it is. Eating sushi, traveling, starting a blog or business. People grow and find new ways to entertain themselves. I'm proud of my book-worming habits because I never would have thought I'd be reading so many of them. In a day and age when everyone is on their iPhones on the subway or at a coffee shop, I'm proud to be reading a book with my coffee. Nothing is better than sitting on the subway and reading a book while everyone else is staring off into space or texting or wasting time. Sometimes, and this will sound super weird, a goofy smile will come across my face while reading. I feel like a kid who knows all the answers on a test while everyone else is struggling. I'll even give pssh look.
Ha. You fools! I know something you don't know: Arya is better in the books than on the show! How is that possible? The written word, baby!
Broaden your horizons kids, take the pill that Morpheus offered Neo in the Matrix and free your mind.
(Editor's note: Joe, this makes my heart happy. Here's a Mark Twain quote for you and this piece: "The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." Yay, for books! -HB)