Two guys, a couple of books and a library

Reading really changes lives


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For the last couple years, The Readers, as I have come to think of them, have come to the fourth floor of Loussac regularly. Two guys, each with a stack of books, sit on either end of the red couch near my office, each engrossed in a book. Obviously, since I work in a library, I see people reading all the time. But the intensity and focus of these two, along with the regularity of their visits, set them apart.

For the first few months, they never looked up when I walked by, and, at least in my presence, never exchanged a word during their twice-a-week, two-hour, afternoon couch sessions. Fantasy and science fiction dominate the titles they read. Leaning forward, elbows braced on knees, book held in both hands directly under their gaze – that is their favorite position.

Gradually, I made their acquaintance. Steve Sanborn, the guy with the long ponytail on the left side of the couch, works for Hope Community Services in Human Services. His clients are people with disabilities and his job is to help them incorporate into the community. After they finish the daily plan, the client gets to pick out what he or she wants to do for the rest of the day.

Michael, on the other end of the sofa, always wants to come to the library and read during his free time. He emulates Steve, a passionate reader of speculative fiction (genre that includes sci fi, fantasy, horror etc.). Steve says Michael’s concentration and reading skills have improved quite thanks to their library sessions..

“You read so much,” I told him. “You are a great role model for him.”

“Maybe so, but I can identify with him. I never read a whole book until I was 18.”

Huh? So how did he get through school?

As Steve tells it, he showed up for every class and listened to the instructor. Trying to read text books was confusing and frustrating, so he sought ways to avoid them. When he had to read novels, he selected ones that had movies attached. When his class studied Shakespeare and other classics, he picked up the CliffsNotes and breezed through the discussions and tests. And so he graduated with pretty good grades, he says.

When he was 18, Steve was crashing at a buddy’s place for a while. His buddy was constantly playing games and Steve was bored, bored, bored. Finally his friend handed him a book and told him to read it. The book – Piers Anthony’s “Dragon on a Pedestal” – drew him in and surrounded him like a blanket. He struggled with unfamiliar words. It took a while and wasn’t easy, but he persisted and finished it. Then he went looking for more.

That same summer, he took a generalized skills test at a job center. His reading ability was rated at a 6th grade level, his word pronunciation, even lower. Within a year, after he became a reader, Steve’s pronunciation was up to 12th grade level and he was reading at the level of a sophomore in college.

Steve repeats the statement, his pride in that accomplishment showing in his broad grin: “In one year, I went from reading at a sixth grade level to reading at a second year college level.”

Improving his reading skills has changed Steve’s life.

“In the beginning, being able to read and communicate and just know what people were saying – that was really noticeable to me. Now it’s more subtle. Reading expands my horizons. I am more articulate. I am less self-conscious.”

Steve’s tastes in what he reads are certainly more sophisticated and he now goes through books at a prodigious rate. Sometimes, he reads four or five books in a row, speeding through 60-100 pages an hour.

“I don’t see the words after a point. It is like watching a movie. With a good author and a great story though, I slow down and read every word.”

Among the authors he recommends: Brandon Sanderson, Jim Butcher, David Weber, John Rhingo, Wen Spencer, Kim Harrison and Jean Johnson. I’ve read a couple books he’s recommended and I couldn’t put them down.

Reading changes lives in so many ways. Just ask Steve and Michael.

 

To share your reading or library story, call or email Toni McPherson at 343-2981 or mcphersontm@muni.org.

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