BUFFALO – Libraries are like supermarkets for the soul.

I spent an hour Saturday afternoon wandering through the tiny library that serves my community. I thumbed through the biographies and traced my fingers on the bindings of the history books.

Should I read on Eisenhower or Cronkite?

African American history or World War II?

A library is an ironic place for me to be. I’m not supposed to be able to read. 

I was born with a condition called dyslexia. When I was learning to read, letters would jumble. Words somehow didn’t connect into sentences in the same way they did for other children. 

When I was in third grade, my teachers said I just wasn’t trying. They sent home picture books for kindergarteners. Apparently, that is what they thought I should aspire to.

People ask me sometimes: What was the toughest time in your life? My answer is always the same: third grade. 

Not losing each of your parents? Not suffering a sexual assault at age 12?  Not losing your brother to cancer?

Nope. Third grade.

What made it so painful was I had two teachers who refused to see my potential. 

But my mother knew better. Each week. she would load me up in the car and take me to the Galesburg Public Library. It was an effort that changed my life. We would walk through the children’s section, and together we would pick out Dan Frontier books and Tom Swift tales.

I was transported far from the sterile hallways of Coldbrook School to magical realms of pioneers and scientists. The world became a more interesting place. 

For at least an hour a day, my mother and I would read together. She would read one page while I would read the next. My efforts were sometimes halting. But my mother quietly encouraged. She spoke softly as I struggled, never scolded. And she never compared.

She just cared.

I steadily became a better reader. Within two years, I was in the top reading group of my school. 

Much credit goes to my mother, of course, but also to Janice Candor, my fourth-grade teacher. She saw my potential and worked to develop it.

Today, I read four newspapers every day and at least one book a week. I have a master’s degree. I can’t imagine a world without printed words. 

But Americans are reading less and less. 

From 2003 to 2018, the average amount of time adult Americans spent reading for personal interest per day fell by six minutes, to less than 16 minutes per day, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

That’s just sad. 

Bookstores are closing. Libraries are disappearing. And newspapers are struggling.

Somehow the joy of reading isn’t being instilled as it should.

I thought about that this week as my three daughters returned to school. 

My youngest entered third grade this year. I pray her year is better than mine was. 

On Saturday, I saw my 11-year-old with her nose in a library book.

I asked her what she was reading about. 

She replied, “I’m reading about a girl growing up in India when it became two countries.”

I saw the sparkle in her eyes as she explained what she had learned. I had to smile; books are nourishment for the soul. 

 Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist and a freelance reporter. ScottReeder1965@gmail.com.