Monday, January 9, 2012

One English Teacher's First Book Love

Robert Rivera teaches English in a high school these days. If someone had told his twelve year old self that's where he would have ended up, he probably wouldn't have believed it. You see, back in the days, Rob didn't consider himself a big reader. By his own confession, he didn't buy a novel for his own pleasure until he reached college.

What Book First Captured His Heart?

So, you might be wondering - how could a guy who didn't even really like books end up selecting a career that focused on them so intently? The answer is simple, he fell in book love at the tender age of twelve with a genre of books that is often overlooked when we consider whether or not we are readers: comic books. When I asked Rob what his first book love was, one can still hear the bias against this genre of literature, "I don't know if it counts, but I think it sort of does... I was very into comic books, first, before any books. So I would say my first book love was... Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

Are There One Night Stands in Book Love?!

I asked Rob why he thought this book (or, more accurately, series of books) would not count as book love. "I think it counts in that you build a passion for something. It's something you want to share with people and not everyone knows about it. So, you feel like you have this secret that you just have to get out there. I think it satisfied those requirements for book love. I think there's another part of book love, though, when you are actually reading that book. Some comics are so short and brief that you are pretty much done with it in one sitting, but with a novel you get to interact with it for hours and days (depending on how fast your reading is)... as far as length goes [comics] are more like one night stands."

I challenged Rob to rethink he stance on the casual nature of comic book love,"Don't you feel like (if I'm going to take this analogy to it's death) you had a relationship with The Turtles because you got to see them more so than people would with a novel? You would get to see them weekly, or monthly, and that story continues." He agreed.

How Did They Meet?

Rob's father was a big time comic book fan, but, surprisingly that's not where he picked up The Turtles from. It was from a cousin who would visit from time to time. Rob admits, when he first heard the title alone, he thought it was ridiculous. However, that appeared to be the hook, "I was intrigued to look through the book at first because it was ridiculous. I thought, 'OK. This is silly,' but then I browsed through it. All of a sudden I was drawn into it." Of course I can't leave that pun hanging there as Rob was also drawn in by the art of the book, "I think it's one of the ways comic books attract young people. They can get half of the story through a visual representation, like TV. To me, I thought, 'These things look cool and I really want to know more about them.'"

We discussed how the Turtles were a major part of our childhood culture in the early nineties, but Rob takes a special pride in the fact that he was reading these books before there was a cartoon, action figures, video games or a movie. "I think I liked the idea that this was some sort of underground idea that I was in on."

The Real Life Relationships

Underground or not, all comic book readers know that once you're hooked, it is likely you will start to develop a relationship with your comic book seller, "It felt like visiting a friend each week," Rob says of the "flea-market guy." The "store" was a small five foot by six foot space with comic books on the walls behind the seller's counter and on the walls. Rob reflects fondly on a memory of strings across the top of the store where GI Joes hung who were sold for one dollar each and I worry that tomorrow we'll have the same thing running through our living room (have I mentioned that Rob is my husband?)!

Making The Transition

Rob still reads comic books faithfully, and started to branch out past the Turtles about a year after he began reading them, but you may be wondering what finally helped him make the transition from comic books to picture-less reading. He credits a high school English teacher with planting a seed that would lead to his first-ever "real" book love.

"One year I had this interesting teacher who would talk about books, in general. I remember how he mentioned The Hobbit having its own language. Something about how Tolkien had created a whole language for the characters in The Hobbit  and he planted a seed that day. All I knew of The Hobbit was 1. the cartoon that came on around Thanksgiving time, and 2. what this teacher told me.... All writers invest tons of time into their books, but I didn't know that at the time and I was intrigued by this. So The Hobbit was the first book I went out and bought for myself." However, it wasn't right after the class. It was years later, when he was in college (I have it on good authority that he read this book with a girl... I'm not going to drop any names here, but The Hobbit does have a special place in the Rivera lore.). It's a good thing he loved that book though, Rob says, "If I didn't love that book, I don't think I would be a reader today."

Some of Rob's Other Book Loves 

Rob's book love has continued over the years and when I asked him for a quick rundown of other loves, here's what he came up with:
  • Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
  •  Ender's Game Orson Scott Card
  • Othello by Shakespeare
  • Halo Series, specifically books written by Eric Nylund
  • Ringworld by Larry Niven
  • The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King  (with extra love for The Wizard and The Glass)
  • The Hunger Games Trilogy by Susan Collins
  • The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (he teaches this book ALL the time!)
 From Comic Books:
  • Invincible by Robert Kirkman
  • Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
  • Ultimate Spiderman by Brian Michael Bendis
  • Girls by The Luna Brothers
  • Y The Last Man by Brian K Vaughan
  • Ultimate X-Men by Mark Millar
  • Wanted by Mark Millar
  • The Watchmen By Alan Moore
  • The Dark Knight by Frank Miller
  • The Dark Knight Strikes Again by Frank Miller
  • Maus by Art Spiegelman 
  • Bone by Jeff Smith
I made him stop. 
If you are desperately seeking more of Rob's recommendations, just let me know!

Are you a comic book reader? If so, what was your first comic book love?
Have you ever felt like you were in on some sort of underground idea when reading a book?
Want to share your first book love? Check this out.

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