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Friday, April 4, 2014

Book Memories 03 | Michael J. Sullivan

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Book Memories: How I became a reader by Michael J. Sullivan

It’s probably not a good thing to admit, but when I was young I hated reading. Yep, even though I make my living now from writing books, there was a time when I had no interest in the written word. One of my worst memories was the summer I tortured myself with Big Red, a 254 page “chapter book” that I suffered through just so I could say I’ve read a book in my lifetime. But this post is supposed to be about my best memory not my worst, so I’ve already wandered off track.

How I came to reading probably doesn’t seem like an overly pleasant experience. It started in the dead of night (or at least what I thought was the dead of night at the time).  My brother and I shared a small bedroom and since he was ten years my senior he stayed up much later than I did.  He rushed in, switched on a blinding light, shook me awake, and then spend the next several hours rambling about a book he had just started reading. Apparently he was so enthralled with it that he just had to “tell someone.” Even if that someone was his younger brother that he really didn’t have much in common with.

This went on night after night, and I only caught half (or less) of what he was telling me…it always takes me a while to gather my wits when woken in the middle of the night...but one thing that came across loud and clear was his enthusiasm for the story. Much of what he was telling me didn’t make sense. There were strange words I’d never heard of and places that were nothing like where we lived in the suburbs of Detroit. But I tried to stay awake and there were some cool things that stuck with me.

Eventually the nightly visits ceased, and while I didn’t realize at the time that I would miss them, I can look back now with great fondness. Both my brother and I are “getting up there” in years and this was the first time we shared anything together (besides our room). It was a binding tie that stays with me even to this day. But again, I’m wandering off track.

So anyway, it was sometime later…I really can’t recall how long. It was a Sunday, which I remembered because back then there were only three network stations and Sunday afternoons contained golf, bad black and white movies, and not much else. It was raining, and I was bored enough to do some organizing of our bedroom.  In doing so, I came across a book. The book. If there had been anything else to do, I might not have opened the page, but since the story got my brother so excited, it was worth trying to see what all the hub-bub was about.

It started out with:

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

Wow, I thought. This is much more interesting than the story about the Irish setter.

So I curled up and dug in. My life was never the same again. All that kept running through my head was, “So this is what reading can be like. Needless to say, when I finished it, I dug into Lord of the Rings. Then I was bugging my mom to take me to the library as I worked through all the Narnia books. It wasn’t too long before I ran out, which is what transformed me from a reader to a writer.

I wanted more…and I wanted stories to go the way I wanted them to. I’ve always been mad at Lewis for returning the children to ordinary lives after they had lived as kings and queens. The best way to manage this was to write my own books, so I started typing out stories on my sister’s portable typewriter. I illustrated covers on construction paper, and used staples or punched holes and used string to bind the pages together. A whole new world opened and not only did I discover the joy of reading, but the untapped potential of a nearly limitless world.

So for those who have read my stories you can either thank (or blame) my brother Patrick (his first name is John, although everyone calls him Pat) FRor waking me up in the middle of the night so share his enthusiasm for Tolkien. It was the spark that ignited the fire, and without that my life would have turned out much different. I hope that everyone has someone in their life that nudges them on the way to reading…and, I’d be even happier if some of those got the writing bug as well.


Michael J. Sullivan is author of The Riyria RevelationsThe Riyria Chronicles, and his soon to be released science fiction thriller, Hollow World.  He has written twenty-three novels, published nine, and has been translated into fifteen foreign languages. His works have appeared on more than eighty-five “best of” or “most anticipated” lists including those compiled by Library Journal, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and He spends part of his time trying to help aspiring authors learn the intricacies of publishing through a regular column on Amazing Stories, and he’ll soon be featuring author interviews on Adventures in Science Fiction Publishing.



  1. How I became a reader. When I was younger my parents had a big old farm house. We had only one TV downstairs and my Mother made us go to bed at 7:30 every night, possibly to keep her sanity. During the summer it would still be light out well past 7:30pm so my sister and I were allowed to read. I don't remember any of the stories then but nightly reading in the summer was my doorway into becoming a life time reader. I feel for the children of today that are stuck on their cell phones, there game systems and unlimited television. I'm not some old person, I'm a parent myself to a 4yr old and a 10 yr old and I'm constantly unplugging them from their devices to keep them involved with family and "real" life going on around them. I am also constantly buying books I remember I liked as a kid and showing them that books can bring sunlight to your soul no matter what else is going on in the world around you. That books can be happy or sad and still be really great. I love a good story teller!

    1. That is awesome thanks for sharing! I have many young kids too and we limit the TV and video game time. They love reading books and I'm so glad I get to share my love of reading with them. It's excited to see my oldest, who turns 6 this month, learning to read. I can't wait to read books with him! Thanks for sharing.