I don’t remember the first book I read. I can remember my parents reading to me: Anne of Green Gables, Treasure Island, The Hobbit. But I don’t know which book I first read all on my own. I don’t know which book really hooked me into the world of reading. Fortunately, I’ve been able to see the books that have hooked others.
In the last three weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of stacking books in two readers’ hands—not even being asked why the readers should take my suggestions. I sent them away with a foot of books each. For one of those readers, it started with Harry Potter.
So, my theory. I frequently encounter people who say they don’t read for the pleasure of it, which saddens me. They say they’ve tried this book or that, but nothing lit them up. My theory is that everyone could be a reader, if not a dedicated bibliophile, if they just found the right book. That’s the trick.
School doesn’t necessarily help. Reading Romeo and Juliet and Frankenstein and The Grapes of Wrath under duress, before someone is ready, can kill a love of reading faster than anything else. A good teacher can help explicate and unlock a book, but they are—sadly—few and far between. I was lucky enough to have an advanced placement English teacher in high school who gave us books and a few pointers when we needed them, but otherwise left us alone to explore on our own.
If my theory is right, it gives readers a duty to help non-readers find their gateway book. For non-readers, don’t worry about not enjoying the books you’ve tried to read in the past. You just haven’t found the right book yet. And there are plenty of books on the shelves, just waiting.