Congratulations ‘Butter Bean’

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 27, 2007

My mom called me the other day to tell me about my six-year-old cousin, Styles, making the advanced reading class in school.

Of course, I was immediately proud of “Butter Bean” (my nickname for him), the little boy that had practically grew up in my house, who I had seen nurtured from a sweet roly-poly baby to a sassy toddler to a bright young child.

I was even more proud when I realized that Styles was perhaps unique to his generation because he loves reading, despite being part of one of the many generations gripped with video games, computers and all other sorts of media.

I knew immediately that it was my mom and other family members who instilled that love of reading and an interest of stories in him, as they had done with me.

It gave me hope that there were teachers and mentors out there that would help facilitate children’s imaginations and show them that stories and creativity didn’t always begin in a box with controls and vivid pictures, but with in their own minds.

There was a time in my life that I couldn’t imagine living without reading and stories.

I was so obsessed with novels, poems, legends, the backs of cereal boxes, that if it had words on it I wanted to read it.

I suppose this fascination began just after I learned to read, but the fascination with stories began long before that.

My family is filled with infamous storytellers, whether they’re telling sagas of family history or arguing about how certain events unfolded (which if this happens you’re likely never to hear the rest of the story).

When I was younger I would drop everything just to listen to my grandmother tell me about her Christmas cactus, which according to her was 150 years old and made the trip with her Irish ancestors to the United States.

Or I would listen to my mom as she described how my grandparents met on a botched double date.

And with every story told, I could see that moment where my grandmother fell in love with my grandfather or the lonely Irish woman showing up on the shores of the U.S. with only a small plant under her arm.

They never held back; I heard the good and the bad, the innocent and the scandalous—I heard it all.

It gave me an idea of who I came from and a peek into the vastness of human nature.

Without doubt this only encouraged me to seek out other stories in the form of books.

Even before I could read, I would sit with my mom and insist that I read to her.

My mom would smile as I pointed to each word on the page and materialize my own story about the horses I saw in the pictures running across a field.

It was complete fiction coming from my four year old imagination, but to me I was entertaining my mom with a story like she had done for me several times.

My grandmother also encouraged reading by taking me to library reading groups or even giving me just books for my birthday. She even bought me a batch of books a few months before I was born.

When I got to school I became even more passionate about books because of my teachers, not only introducing me to all kinds of stories and authors, but for pushing their students to understand the story and analyze fundamental meanings of the piece.

For me, reading has been a way to expand my knowledge, experiences and beliefs, even if I didn’t always agree with them.

And above all it always made me question things around me.

Those stories also took me places I had never gone before, from early 19th century English countryside in “Pride and Prejudice” to the banks of Troy in the “Iliad” where the Greeks and Trojans battled over the most beautiful woman in the world.

When I got older I moved more away from the classics, reading more modern pieces by authors like Isabelle Allende, Richard Peck and Joyce Carol-Oates.

My obsession with stories caused me to lug books everywhere on vacations, shopping, family get-togethers and even on a date one time with a not so interesting guy.

Hey, you never know when you may need a book.

Today I’m still an avid reader, despite time constraints.

I still try to make a point to schedule reading in, finding time whether I’m waiting for an oil change or squeezing a few pages in before bed.

I’ve collected so many books over the years that shelves have not been able to contain them. Instead they live in boxes, buried in closets.

Yet when I walk into a bookstore I still want to buy every book.

It’s a tortured affair that will never end.

So, prepare Butter Bean.

And congratulations, you have joined the ranks of the story obsessed.