Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Reluctant Reader Confession

I was excited to read that the Coen Brothers were in Memphis looking for an unknown teenager to play the part of Mattie Ross in the remake of the western classic True Grit. Some of you remember this movie as an introduction to John Wayne's popular U. S. Marshall "Rooster" Cogburn character, but I differ. I was entranced by the Mattie character.

Every Sunday after church, Dad and I would sit down for the western matinee playing on our Nashville TV station. I must have been 11-years-old when I first saw True Grit. At the time, I was the spitting image of Mattie. I sported freckles galore with straight bangs and dirty blond hair short enough to be mistaken as a boy. In short, my brother and I looked alike.

Dad was the first to mention other similarities. Yes, I was a hard-headed mule who knew more than the people around her. Yes, when I set my mind to something, other things suffered. Yes, I was tough and quite gritty. Dad began to call me "baby sister" after that day and I much preferred it to his other nickname, "number two." My brother was "number one son" and well my standing was clear.

What does this have to do about reading? There is a point. I promise.

When I was in second grade, I did not belong in the "A" reading group. I tested in the "B" group and was placed there the second week of school. Well, I thought there was a mistake and I kept going to the A group only to be walked back to the B readers. Every once in a while my teacher, Miss Harper, would see me sit in the back of the As, but she played dumb and allowed me to stay.

It was a dark day when it happened again in third grade. Confidence was lost and I bowed with the shame of not being a "good" reader. This is when I became one of those reluctant readers. Oh, I could read. Vocabulary was not a problem; although, I had a tendency to add r's, t's and d's in words when spoken. I have a southern mountain mixed with Texan accent. To keep classmates from laughing, I became quiet and invisible – hiding behind the desk in front of me – during read-a-loud portions.

Confidence fell even farther as I was left behind in fourth then fifth grade. It became obvious during standardized testing that I could read but not understand what I read. My focus was on the words and not the story. As with millions of school children, I went from loving reading to hating it with every ounce of my being.

My determination to make something of myself led me to a self-improvement in reading. I would read a book after watching the movie and try to make sense of what I read. My first book was Jaws by Peter Benchley followed by the popular Amityville Horror by Jan Anson. (I give away my age here.) And the silly thing, it worked! I had a way back into reading and a great confidence builder!

It was True Grit that led to the biggest break through. The first two books were loose adaptations to screen and I could connect some parts but others were still incomprehensible. True Grit, written by Charles Portis, was almost exactly the same! The ending was a little different, but the plot and characters all matched up! In my joy, I read it two times straight through.

If I thought of this back in the 70's, I know there are others who have done the same thing. This is a perfect argument for replacing a beat up title with the new, movie-cover edition. It may have been the cover art that attracted me first then the idea followed. Whatever the case, I am a reader thanks to this backwards thinking. Oh, and Coen brothers, you are 30 years too late!

I write this as a non-published article for possible use in future book talks. It is more an exercise in habit since I write my articles Wednesday mornings and want to stay in practice. I realize it is wordie but it serves my purpose.