There were earlier warning signs, of course. But I think I can pinpoint the exact moment in 5th Grade when that sharp, elegant stake of book-love was driven deep into my heart forever. Picture it: a young Skov in the late 80’s, glowering in the passenger seat beneath the bangs of his asymmetrical skater haircut. In the driver seat is his aunt, a tall, tanned, chain-smoking horse trainer from Miami. She turns to him:
“So, I hear you like Dungeons and Dragons and stuff like that.”
“Yeah,” says young Skov. “But there’s nobody to play with. All anybody else wants to do is sports.”
“You know, if you like all that sword and sorcery stuff, I bet you’d like this book I just read by this guy, Piers Anthony.”
“A book?” says young Skov skeptically. But the profound awe he holds for his tall, chain-smoking horse trainer aunt keeps him from dismissing it immediately.
“Yeah, okay, I’ll try it.”
The worn paperback is handed off and the next day young Skov and his father drive home. It’s a long drive from Eerie, Pennsylvania to Columbus, Ohio and his father is not one for idle chit-chat. It is on this drive that relentless boredom finally forces young Skov to crack open A Spell for Chameleon and unwittingly begin a life-long love of sweeping epic fantasy. A love that he discovered he shared not only with his aunt, but with his father, and his grandfather as well.
A lot of time has passed and I can barely recognize that sullen emo kid. But the love of big fat epic fantasy novels remains. When my father and I, two very different men, find ourselves sitting somewhere with nothing to do and little to say, we always have that. And when my grandfather was nearing the final stages of Alzheimer’s, everyone told me not to take him to the Fellowship of the Ring movie because he just wouldn’t get it. But I took him. And he absolutely hated it. But the beautiful thing was that, at a time when he often could not remember my name, he was able to clearly articulate exactly why he hated the movie. I think it was the last time I saw him as I had always known him.
Recently, I’ve had several conversations with women who are trying to find some way to understand these strange beings that their sons have turned into in their teenage years. These moms want to connect, but they just aren’t sure how. And there is no magic bullet. But chances are if you read this blog, you, like my aunt, are a reader. And if you have a teenage son, or you know one, and you know what their passion is, then find the right book and just put it in their hands. They may not read right away. It might even sit for months. But I’m willing to bet that they will pick it up. And open it up. And open up the worlds of possibility that lie within it.
The act of reading may be a solitary act. But the act of sharing a book can sometimes forge surprisingly deep connections.
Tonight I’ll be talking on a panel hosted by David Levithan called “Getting Inside the Mind of a Teenage Boy” at the Barnes & Noble in Tribeca, NYC at 7pm. If you’re in town, come check it out!