My father was a high school English teacher, and he attempted to give his children a great appreciation for literature with a capital L. It worked with my brothers and sister, but for some reason, in my case, it didn’t take. Me, I was in love with comic books, especially the superhero kind from Marvel and DC. I loved the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Green Lantern, and the Flash.
All that changed in the summer of my twelfth year. The instrument of that change was a librarian in a small Ohio town.
I was a Boy Scout then, and in that summer, I decided I wanted to earn the Reading Merit Badge. One of the requirements for the badge was a period of volunteer labor at my local library. So I made the arrangements. On the day I went in to fulfill my obligation, I was put to work date stamping returned books. This was long before computers, and I used a rubber stamp and an ink pad. For a while, I sat at the checkout desk, pounding dates in place on slips glued to the inside covers—ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk.
After an hour or so, the librarian drifted over and asked the question I was afraid she would ask and therefore knew absolutely she would. “Kent,” she said, “what do you like to read?”
I thought about lying, but was pretty much into that whole a scout is trustworthy thing, so I told her the truth: I really liked comic books.
She didn’t bat an eye. She said, “Have you ever read The Count of Monte Cristo?”
I left the library with that Dumas classic under my arm. And I came back a few days later for The Three Musketeers. After that, it was The Man in the Iron Mask. When I’d gone through everything Dumas had written, I asked the librarian’s advice, and she directed me to H.G. Wells and Jules Verne and Jack London and Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson.
If you read my work, you’ll see that most of my stories contain a solid element of adventure, something that can be traced back to the influence of those great stories I fell in love with under the guidance of a librarian whose name I have forgotten but whose kind wisdom I have always treasured.
God bless librarians everywhere.