This human interest story was on the national news last week, so you may already know about it, but I think it’s special and has a great message. More than one message, actually. It’s set in the South, from which so many good stories emanate, and it goes like this …
Born in Valdosta, Georgia (where I was born!), a boy spends his days doing the things boys do—mostly running and jumping and playing in the yard with a ball. He isn’t much of a reader, but by the time he graduates from high school (Valdosta, again) he’s an All-State, All-Dixie, All-American football star. He goes on to the University of Georgia in Athens (Go Dawgs!), where he is a star wide receiver. Everybody in Athens knows him.
Everybody, that is, except the nice lady he meets in the bookstore one day.
The bookstore? The stereotype we have of top athletes—not least American football players—doesn’t include an image of a man reading a novel. By his own admission, this football player didn’t read very well when he entered college three years ago. Who knows what makes him think he should practice reading the way he practices football, but that’s what he does. He starts reading fiction and the door to another world opens. He enjoys that world.
The football player doesn’t have years of practice choosing the next novel to read the way we longtime book enthusiasts do, though. So when he’s encouraging a friend to read for pleasure—as one does—they end up at a bookstore on a Sunday afternoon, trying to make a choice. And asking the lady standing next to them in front of the best sellers rack what she might recommend. To read. For pleasure.
An enthusiastic conversation ensues. (This is a risk one takes when one asks a reader about books.) The lady mentions the novel her book group is reading. The young man has heard of book groups. He’s long been intrigued by the phenomenon and wants to experience it himself. “May I join your book group?” he asks.
You can watch two short video clips about this football player to learn the rest of the story:
“Star Football Player Steps Out of His Comfort Zone” and “A Different Side of Malcolm Mitchell.” They’re fun and inspiring and they have a great message, as I noted above.
1 A good story is a powerful thing.
I’ve written about finding that one magic book and I’ve written about how the Boy learned to read. We know the Harry Potter books “turn boys into bookworms.” And we know that reading fiction changes people, particularly young people, in measurable ways. People who grew up with books, with parents who read, know this instinctively, but not everyone is that lucky. When a young person finds a novel that makes him want to read another one, it’s a beautiful thing.
2 A bookstore fosters community.
The importance of bookstores in the community cannot be underestimated. It gives readers a place to discover new books, of course, but more than that, it brings together people from all walks of life and with all sorts of interests. Because a bookstore is a place you might go for a magazine or a newspaper, a Bible or educational materials, as well as a book, whether fiction or nonfiction. It’s a place, says novelist (and bookstore owner) Ann Patchett, “where you can take your children and let them play, and look at books … We have to raise up readers.” It’s a place where you find people meeting for book groups or for public readings. It’s a place where you run into friends.
3 Don’t be afraid to make a new friend.
We get into ruts, we do. We’ve been running around with the same bunch for the last twenty years. And sure, it’s comfortable. But if we take just one little step outside the path we’ve worn between home and work and the drycleaner, we might learn something new, might experience something wonderful, might have new opportunities for growth. I’ve had this experience myself. And look what happened to the football player!
4 Discussion enhances appreciation of a book.
How many times have you had the experience of wishing you had someone with whom to discuss the book you just read? It’s a lot easier now that we have social media, but before Facebook and Twitter, we book geeks buttonholed each other: Whad’ya think of the ending of Gone Girl? Book groups are a great way to stay intellectually stimulated and to be exposed to other opinions and ideas. In one of the videos, Malcolm notes he would never have chosen The Light Between Oceans on his own, but there he was reading it. Reading itself is a solitary thing. But discussion makes it more fun.
5 There’s always room for one more.
When you cultivate a spirit of generosity, you never know what wonderful things will grow from it. You need look no further than this story to see the truth of that.
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Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”