Gateway Drugs

I was reading lately about how best to turn kids into readers and got to thinking about how I became one.

I was far from a stellar student as a kid, definitely not a born reader, and despite my teachers' best efforts the classics I was being shown in school weren't doing anything to change that. Dickens left me cold. Hawthorne bored me. Poe and London were ok, but overall literature felt alien, irrelevant, dry fodder for essays on themes and symbolism.

And then I discovered comic books. Spiderman, Batman, X Men, Avengers, Daredevil. Whatever I could get my hands on. Every week I would get my little allowance and go over to the 7-11 and comb through the racks. The fun monthly stories eventually led to the darker and more complex work of people like Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns. Daredevil: Born Again. Batman: Year One) and Alan Moore (Watchmen. Too many other awesome things to name) and from them to short genre fiction in magazines like Twilight Zone. By the time I moved on to writers like Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Robert R. McCammon, Frank Herbert and others, I was hooked.  I would read anything. Fiction. Non-Fiction. Literary. Genre. Any book. Any time.

I think of those comics now as my gateway drug, the things that gave me the taste for reading and led to this lifelong obsession. Once I understood that reading was entertainment, not work, then I was able to go back and appreciate all those classics that bored me so much as a kid.

I guess I had to love reading before I loved books. If that makes sense.

What do you all think? How do you make a reader? What were your gateway drugs? 


Mandy P.S. said...

My gateway was Star Wars. I did read a lot before I got into Star Wars but when my uncle lent me the Thrawn Trilogy in the fifth grade, everything changed. I was suddenly reading two "adult" books a week. And then in seventh grade Harry Potter came out and I was introduced to fantasy (my family was much more science fiction friendly). Suddenly I had two genres I loved, and I was reading Wheel of Time, Dragonriders of Perns, and Isaac Asimov.

It definitely all started with Star Wars.

Pam Harris said...

Great post! My gateway drug was definitely comic books, too. My faves were Spider-man and Archie. :) After that, I became hooked on Judy Blume, and now people find it odd if I don't have a book in my hand.

Matthew MacNish said...

Does that cover look dirty to anyone else?

My gateway drugs were LOTR, Star Wars, and the TMNT comic books. Oh, and the Punisher comic books too.

Yes, I was born in the late 70s. What of it?

Eli said...

I can't remember what my gateway drug, as you put it, was. Ii've been a reader as long as I can remember. So much so that I made a career out of it. I teach reading.

In my reading class of 8th grade struggling readers we talk about gateway books (although at this point in the year they do call me "the Supplier"). It is one of the most amazing feelings to have a kid come up to me and say that he's never read a book all the way through until he got to my class, and then proceed to count to number of books he read over the course of the semester and feel impressed with himself. If I recall correctly, his gateway book was Trackers by Patrick Carman.

Alex said...

Originally, I began with Harry Potter. Maybe you'd say it isn't a gateway drug, but film was the one for me.

I think I'd always enjoyed reading- I read like the wind through ages 6-9- but when I was 9 (or there about) the first Harry Potter film came out and I was awestruck thinking: That was bloody amazing.

Until then, I think was reading was like an internal competition to read as much as I could and read more than everyone else, but Harry Potter films inspired me to read the books and that is my earliest memory of truly enjoying books. It's been a financial drain ever since.

Bethany said...

What I was in second grade my teacher said that I would never be able to read or write. I kinda imagine that made my parents pretty upset. They got me a reading and writing coach. The lady was nice, but I still hated it. I guess even in second grade I resented ten page picture books :P I remember one time they gave me a tiny book to read, and I finished it in a few minutes. The teacher didn't belive me, so she made me read it again outloud to her.

As soon as I got old enough to read MG, I started to love reading. Writing naturally came after that.

To other people... I don't really know. I know some people who LOVE the Hunger Games, but refuse to pick up any other book. So confusing :)

Joy D. Fanning said...

It was 4th grade and I was reading my first Goosebumps books. I don't remember which one, but I think it had to do with a hunted house that ate people. It was the first book I couldn't put down, I kept it on top of my little desk at school and took every moment I could spare without getting caught to read it.

B.E. Sanderson said...

I don't know if it was one gateway book for me, per se. I had four older brothers & sisters who were reading, plus my mother inhales books, so I wanted to read, too. And then I discovered there were whole worlds between those covers - places so far away from my own existence I could get lost for hours.