It may not be an issue now, but it definitely affected my reading habits when I was a kid. Which is to say, I didn't have any reading habits when I was a kid. I began reading for myself late, haltingly, and only because my brother seemed to be having so much fun with it. But while Matt would blast through a thick Stephen King novel in a few days, I labored. I mostly chose short books, and they had to be worth it.
The first book I remember reading as something other than a homework assignment was The Book of Three, the first in a five-book series by Lloyd Alexander. This was completely because of my brother, who read all five and liked them so much that he named his main Dungeons & Dragons character after one of Alexander's creations. That was an almost unfathomable compliment in our world, and I just had to see why he'd done it.
I loved The Book of Three—featuring Taran, the heroic assistant pig-keeper!—and even made it through the second book, the very awesome The Black Cauldron. Loved that too, more even, but that was as far as I got. It was a lot of work, this reading for fun, and I already knew how the series ended from my brother.
So even after that postive start, books weren't a big part of my life. When it got too dark for climbing trees and riding bikes, there was TV and Atari. The next book that had a major impact on me was Watership Down. Technically, that was a homework assignment, but I devoured it in a way that was above and beyond the call of academic duty. That book floored me. Floored me. Still does.
That was fifth grade, fifth or sixth, and again, I didn't run out and start reading everything I could get my hands on. It was more of a growing suspicion that this reading thing could be kind of amazing sometimes. At about the same time, I started writing some poetry because, basically, it was short and I liked rhyming. Still, that was when I started writing for myself.
My dyslexia was thoroughly beaten down by then. It is, essentially, a problem of processing the symbols that make up language in a non-standard way, and years of assigned reading and individual attention in my no nonsense, small town elementary school had effectively retrained me to process those symbols properly. In the space of a few years, I'd gone from Special Ed to the gifted program, and that was really more about my teachers than me.
So now I had the mental tools for advanced reading and knew it could be fun, but I still wasn't an avid reader. That wouldn't happen until Robert Cormier. And then S.E. Hinton. I guess that was seventh grade. The Chocolate War, I Am the Cheese, The Outsiders, Rumble Fish... Kids were passing these books around: You have to check this out.
The books were darker than anything we'd read before. I'm not sure if anyone would have actually disapproved, but we acted that way, passing the little paperbacks around like contraband. And what seventh grader can resist something both portable and forbidden?
The books were fantastic and now they were cool, too. That was that. I read pretty consistently from that point on. And then, in 10th grade English, we read the poem "Hawk Roosting" by Ted Hughes. Floored again, gobsmacked, whatever. I'd never heard anything like it:
There is no sophistry in my body;
My manners are tearing off heads...
It was the same thrill I'd felt reading Cormier for the first time. How could something be so dark, resonant, and cool and made only of words? And it was my old friend poetry again: still short, though no longer rhyming.
I was an English nerd 4eva after that. I plowed my way through all of Faulkner and then through NYU and into a job in publishing. Eventually, I started writing fiction, and when I made my way to YA, there was no doubt what sort of books I wanted to write. Something dark, something for kids who aren't necessarily avid readers, something they could pass around under their desks.
Will they? I guess we'll find out in April, when Gentlemen comes out. In the mean time, if you'll excuse me, I have some reading to do.