I remember the exact moment I realized that I knew how to read.
According to my grandmother, I could read when I was four years old. I don't know if that's necessarily right. I don't remember doing a lot of reading. Maybe I could read a few words here and there, and memorize the books she read me. There was one in particular that I wanted every single night. It was one of those Disney book club books that you got through the mail, and it was about Scrooge McDuck. I don't remember the story or anything, but I do remember that Scrooge McDuck was my fucking idol. The guy lived like he was tied to a shoestring budget, but he had a vault so full of money that he could swim in it. I loved that book. Another one I loved was about Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby, which my sweet and well-meaning grandmother unfortunately read to me in what may go down in history as the most offensive accent the world has ever known.
Anyway, according to my grandmother, I could read at age four. I call baloney, because I remember the exact age when I learned to read, and it was six. I know, it's cool to say you were reading Shakespeare at age three, but I was six, and I wasn't even in the top reading group in my class. But I remember we got our reading book, and it was a skinny paperback book that was perfectly square. The cover was green, with lighter green printing, and a picture of what I believe was a dog house. Maybe I'm just confusing this with the fact that the first story in the book was about a dog, but whatever. I had such anxiety about being handed that book, because I didn't know how to read. I knew how to recognize a few words, like "gas" and "food" when we were in the car, but I didn't know how to read. Only grownups knew how to read.
Try and think back to when you didn't know how to read, and what reading seemed like to you. I remember that written words looked a certain way. Now, I can't imagine what they looked like before I knew how to read them. But reading was definitely an intimidating thing back then. Grown ups were like gods, because they knew how to read and reading was the key to so much stuff. You had to read the directions on the pudding box. You had to read the TV Guide. You had to read the mail. Reading is involved in so many activities.
So, I sat there with my little book, and I opened the cover and hesitantly started looking on the first page for words I knew. A. I knew A, it wasn't really a word, just a letter. Dog. Well, obviously I knew Dog, but only because I memorized it. I wasn't actually reading. In. Yup, I knew In. Wait a minute...
By the end of my second page, I stopped reading and just stared at the page. And my little six year old head held just one, profanity laden thought:
Holy shit. I can read!
I will never forget how awesome that feeling was. I could read. It was all going to be downhill from there, because I could read. In the end, maybe that's what we're all looking for when we pick up a book. Reading is like a drug addiction, we're always chasing that greater high, trying to find a book that makes us feel as awesome as our favorites did. And I think that feeling is probably inspired by how we felt the very first time we realized that we had become readers.