The Book That Changed My Life

by Ron Vitale

My 6th grade English teacher assigned our class a book report assignment and I remember fondly the book that I chose. I don’t remember my teacher’s name, but I remember the book. Our teacher said that we could pick any book we wanted to read and I thought I’d be smart and pick Tolkien’s The Hobbit because I had already read it. I zipped through the book and then learned from a friend that Tolkien had also written The Lord of the Rings trilogy. That was more than 32 years ago and I fell in love with Tolkien’s books, but, more importantly, I fell head over heels in love with reading.

With my mom having gone through a rough divorce from my father a few years earlier and our moving into my grandparents’ house, I needed some place to find stability and solace. Reading became my balm to soothe me and help me see the world from a different perspective. I read about hobbits and goblins and great power that corrupted, but through it all, if you were true of heart, you could defeat evil and live to see a happy day--pretty powerful stuff to read for a young boy awkward in my own body. Lanky and tall, I didn’t fit in with the jock crowd or the popular crowd so I fell into the loner crowd, doing my own thing until I slowly began to make friends in my new neighborhood.

Looking back at that time, I had no idea of the power that reading had over me and how wonderful it was to find a stable and trustworthy skill that could help me cope with my problems. For a while, I could escape the world and all of its unfairness and dream of being somewhere else far away. But what amazed me the most, is that you could be rewarded for using your imagination. If you worked hard enough, you could write books and make a living off of it. And so I started writing short stories and adventures for my friends and I to play in our Dungeons & Dragons games.

Years have passed and I think I’ve read the Lord of the Rings trilogy around 9 times. I’ve lost count over time, having last read the series when the Peter Jackson films came out. Now I have children and hope that one day that my kids will want to read those books, but I don’t think that they will. My son isn’t into magic and swords like I was, but that’s okay because he is finding his own books to read.

What I find amazing is that 25% of Americans didn’t read a book in 2012. That’s a bit mind boggling to me. What do these people do instead? For me, I love reading and wish that I could make more time to do it. I often get to read at night before bed but I read a few pages and then conk out. Being a writer, I have to juggle writing, reading, and work along with family life and exercise. My days are often jam packed and I look back fondly when I could just pick up a book and read for hours. That doesn’t happen now because of my schedule, but I try to work in as many books as I can.

The explosion of ebooks has helped since it’s a lot easier now for me to carry so many different books with me no matter where I am. If I have my phone, I have all my books. No longer do I have to lug around a thick Harry Potter book, but part of me does miss the badge of honor I’d feel when I’d be reading that book on the train headed to work and I’d see so many others doing the same thing.

On what devices you can read has revolutionized the publishing industry, but it’s only strengthened my love of books. So I now ask you: If you had to pick one book that changed your life and you remember so fondly, what would it be? I’m curious. Leave a comment and share with me.

Ron Vitale is the author of the fantasy novel Cinderella's Secret Diary who hopes that his kids will grow up to fall in love with reading as much as he has.