As far back as I can recall, I have been a reader. By the time I was in the second grade, I was addicted to comic books of every sort. Stacks of them slumped in the corners of my small room. By the fourth grade, Bluto, Uncle Scrooge, Huey, Dewey and Louie made way for The Lone Ranger, G.I. Joe and The Red Rider. It was somewhat of a family joke that I would lose myself in a book. Often I would wake from a page to parents or cousins laughing at me because people had been speaking to me, even yelling at me, and I was oblivious. Of course, I was equally tuned out when I watched TV, coming out like I was emerging from a dream. My cousin, Terry, thought that this was pretty funny. I just found it embarrassing.
In school, teachers referred to me as a dreamer. Like Calvin (who I have always considered a cartoon alter-ego) I could be sitting at my desk and suddenly awake to find the whole class laughing at me and a nun standing sternly over me. “Dennis is a bright young man, but he is a daydreamer”, each home report would read.
In 5th and 6th grade, I began to read Classic Comics: 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Robinson Crusoe, The Gold Bug, Call of the Wild, and Moby Dick…all illustrated. Then in the summer of sixth grade, my Aunt Betty came upon a complete hardbound set of the Hardy Boys, volumes 1-36. She presented them to me and I read them, in order of course, the year I was 12…all 36 in a year. At 13, I discovered O. Henry, who I judged to be “The Greatest American Writer” and I became a fan of the short story, which I continue to be today. Shortly, I found the short stories of Poe, who immediately surpassed the lovely ironies of O. Henry with tales of the macabre and ironies of his own. I tried to read de Maupassant and Hawthorne, but they were beyond me…perhaps still are. That summer, I read my first paperback, God is My Co-Pilot, which I found in an alley. I judged it to be a great work of literature.
About this time, my older sister, Sheila, began to feed me books. Sheila was always a good student. We were both readers, as my parents always kept the Reader’s Digest in the bathroom (the quietest reading room in our small house) and we would read it: first the jokes, Life in These United States, Humor in Uniform, but then the condensed stories and “Build your Vocabulary”. We entertained each other by playing endless word games while we did the dishes every evening. She washed; I dried, for almost ten years. (Then we got a dish washer before it was Colleen’s turn). The books that she gave me opened up a new world: John Steinbeck, Hemingway, Salinger, Harper Lee, books that stunned me in their portrayals of life, as I struggled to understand my own. While these authors are standard fare in today’s classrooms, none of them were on the booklist at my school, which was stuck on Dickens. Salinger would have been roundly condemned. I became Holden Caulfield. It was Sheila, rather than my teachers, who became responsible for my literary education. I am still grateful.
Reading got me through my time in the service. I read Catch 22 in basic training and Exodus lying on a bunk at March AFB. While I can sometimes struggle to recall what I was reading last month, I can vividly associate books with different places in my life. Victor Hugo will always be in Reno, Kurt Vonnegut in Hawaii. Jack Kerouac, appropriately, in Venice, Ca.
I still daydream. It sometimes drives Meredy nuts…”Where did you go?” she’ll ask. I’ll say… “What?”
I try to explain that a daydreamer is just a visionary having downtime. …I must have I read that somewhere.