Reading 1

Books that aggravated me, but I read them anyway,
and boy, am I glad I did

When I was in high school and dating my wife, Mom told her that I was born with a book in my hand. Senior year and Karen and I were going steady. Throughout that year, I was surprised any number of times by the kind of thing Mom would tell My One and Only Squeeze, but she never told me. It would be easy to digress here, but I am going to try to stay on topic.

When Karen told me what Mom said about the book in my little infant hand, it did get me to thinking. The first real reading experience I remembered was when I was probably four or five. Mom taught me to read and write a good while before I started grade school, and I read the comics in the newspaper. Some of the strips had a story line they spun out over several weeks, or even months. When a story episode finished, it bugged me that quite often, I couldn’t remember how the episode began. Mom bought me a scrap book, and when she and Pop were finished with the paper, I cut out the comic strips I followed and pasted them in the scrap book. There. I had the whole story. Beginning, middle, and end.

That being born with a book in my hand bit, it made me think about Mom. She was not prone to exaggerate. She and Dad were married during the depression, and there was an air of profound practicality in and over everything they did, and over every penny they spent. The town I grew up in did not have a library, but I remember having books. Tarzan books were a particular favorite of mine.

I remember how Mom used to cut up grocery bags to make covers for my school books and the spanking I got the time I used a math book for a baseball bat and my neighbor pitched rocks to me and I smacked them out of the park. Books were valuable. They cost money.

I valued books ever since that spanking, and for most of my life, when I bought a book, I read the whole thing. I never started a story or a history or a bio, and quit reading because there wasn’t enough action, or it just wasn’t interesting. I always finished every book I started. Until I started writing.

Once I started writing, I became aware of how many books are out there, and that before I die, I won’t have time to read but a bazillionth of them. I appreciated that books have a value other than the price tag listed on the cover, and I remembered a literature professor once said. “Lot’s of readers want a writer to do all the work, or they won’t read a book. But, there are treasures buried in books that you have to work to dig out.” He went on to say that a reader should take notes if he is having trouble keeping track of characters or following the timeline. He even recommended dogearing and underlining a book, thereby destroying the monetary value if that’s what it took to unearth the literary treasures buried inside.

To be continued.

J. J. Zerr writes stories in the historical fiction genre. Mostly. His novels are set in the Civil War, World War II, and the Vietnam War eras. He also published a collection of short stories, some of which are set in the current timeframe.

Writing is his third—not career—passion. He is a US Navy and Vietnam veteran. Serving aboard ships and as navy carrier pilot for thirty-six years, he logged over one thousand carrier landings and more than three hundred combat missions during the Vietnam War. He retired from the US Navy in 1995. He then worked in the aerospace industry for eleven years. On January 2, 2008, he sat down in front of his computer and began working on his first novel and launched his third passion.

Writing, he says, is harder than work. Rewriting is harder than writing, and book promotion is harder than rewriting. “But I can’t not write.”

Zerr resides in the St. Louis area with his wife, Saint Karen.

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