Saturday, March 1, 2008

How I Came to Love Reading

By Richard Marmo

Presumably we all came to a love of reading by different paths. Some couldn’t stand it until an epiphany of some kind reared its cute little head or a traumatic medical event and so on. As they used to say in the introduction to an old TV show called Naked City, “There are a million stories in the naked city!” Well, the same holds true where reading is concerned.

Most learned in a fairly traditional school. Those of you who go back far enough in time learned to read by phonics, the tried and true method by which you learned the alphabet, how the letters sounded and how you put them together to form words. As a result, you wound up being able to read virtually anything put in front of long as it was in your native language. Phonics also enabled you to look a word up in the dictionary, even if you weren’t sure how to spell it. Finding subjects in an encyclopedia was a breeze as well.

For a while, phonics was replaced by the see and say method...and I suppose it still exists in some areas. This method basically had you memorize a word and learn how it sounded. Thus whenever you saw the same word again, you could read it. That was all well and good, but it did have its limitations, the most obvious being if you had never seen a particular word, you didn’t have a clue how it sounded. Your own ability to memorize was also a factor.

Then there are those of us (and I’m one) who have no conscious memory of ever learning to read. We simply do it. Its as natural and automatic as breathing. Was I taught to read? Absolutely! But the method was one that is rarely seen anymore, partly because of time constraints, single parent families, economic pressures and a host of other reasons. The fact that a high percentage of Americans never read another book after they graduate from high school or college is another factor.

So how did I learn to read? What is my reading history and why do I still read? Stick with me, folks. It’s an interesting tale. At least I think so.

My mother read to me. and she didn’t wait to start until I was five or six years old. She read to me from the time I was an infant, only a few months old. Fairy tales, poems, you name it. She didn’t limit her reading material to things that were simple; she also taught me the alphabet. By the time I was two or so, she was buying me books of my own, including the classic Golden Books that actually told a fairly complex story.

Instead of handing me the book and letting me read it alone if I was interested, many’s the time we sat and read it together. She’d read some of it aloud to me while I followed along, then I’d read another portion.

Just before I was three, we were living in Vallejo, California, and my mother told the story that I was lying on the floor ‘reading’ a newspaper. Of course, she thought I was just looking at the photographs, but then began to watch me more closely, and it became obvious that I was actually reading the articles word for word.

From that point on, she started buying me more difficult books and taking me to the library. In that time period (the 1940s), libraries had children’s sections (and I had my own library card), but they also had rules that prevented children from checking out books from the adult section. Since the books in the children's section weren’t up to my level for the most part, my mother got around that restriction by letting me select the books I wanted and she would then check them out.

Before I started first grade, my parents bought a set of encyclopedias for me, and I don’t mean a children’s encyclopedia. This was a full-blown, twenty-volume set of encyclopedias intended for adults. Whenever I asked a question, her response was not to tell me the answer but to say “Let’s go look it up in the encyclopedia.”

When I entered first grade, the school claimed I was reading on a sixth grade level, but the truth was that I was reading on an adult level with no limits on what I would tackle. From that point on there was no stopping me. I suppose one thing that lead to my love of reading was the fact that I was constantly sick as a child and never went to school for more than two weeks at a time. Also, the entertainment at home was either radio drama (You don’t know what you’ve missed if you’ve never heard Inner Sanctum, The Lone Ranger, Green Hornet, Fibber McGee & Molly and a bunch of others. It did wonders for the imagination.), imagination, or books. So I read. Literally anything I could get my hands on. Not only was it an escape from the boredom of illness, it was a way to time travel into both the past and future and to visit places in this world that I would never be able to see in person. Then I discovered Science Fiction and the entire universe, both real and imagined, opened to me.

When I was seven, my parents started getting me interested in model building. Before long, I was an aviation enthusiast in particular and loved models in general. My model interest combined with my love of reading helped to create a deep interest in history, an ability to research, to see patterns where others couldn’t, and more.

From that point on, my interest in both reading and modelbuilding continued to grow and become intertwined to the point that they were inseparable. One thing lead to another and, in 1967, I started building models and writing as a business. I’ve been a freelance writer/modelbuilder ever since.

I’ve written over 500 articles and review columns, most in print publications but quite a number on the Internet. I have several blogs and websites, have written three print books, co-authored two CD-ROMs on the B-36, self-published two CD-ROMs on aviation history and built well over 1,000 models.

Someone asked me once, if I could spend all my time either writing or building models, which would I prefer to do? The question is unanswerable for the simple fact that the two subjects are so integrated with each other and with me that it would be impossible to make a choice. Modelbuilding and writing is what I am, what I was born to do, what my calling is. And reading is at the core of it. Without my love of reading, I would have never become either a modelbuilder or writer, nevermind both.

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