Sunday's Statistical Standard

So this infographic showed up on my feeds a couple of days ago. You've probably seen it if you're a book person. It's depressing even if you're not a writer, though it does explain certain media trends.

But it was the little kicker at the bottom that amused me. An hour a day's reading on a subject will make you an international expert in seven years. Well, okay. I read much more than that a day-- probably two or three hours, easily. And I've been doing that pretty much since I was old enough TO read.

So just on the numbers, I'm a world-class expert on....

...Batman from his beginning to roughly 2012. All media.

...Robert E. Howard. Again, all media.

....James Bond. Do I need to keep saying 'all media'? Assume that's the case unless I qualify it.

...Dracula. Both the fictional vampire and the real-life Vlad Tepes.

...Star Trek in almost all its incarnations-- I haven't kept up with all the licensed novels, I have to admit. But everything else, including comics and fan films. And the novels up to around, oh, 2005 or so.

...Sherlock Holmes. Although I don't think I could match lifelong Irregulars like William S. Baring-Gould or Vincent Starett, I've got some game.

And so on and so on. Nero Wolfe, the Lone Ranger, Planet of the Apes. All sorts of odd pop-culture tide pools that, according to the hour-a-day metric, I must have achieved a doctorate in by now.

I suppose it sounds like bragging. It's really not. Not around CBR, anyway-- for this crowd, that's just another day at the office. We have our specialties, of course. I'll never know as much about Dazzler and the X-books as Burgas does, or as much about Wonder Woman as Kelly does. And I think Brian has us all beat with his eidetic recall of overall Marvel and DC trivia. Widen the comparison beyond just us here at CBR and it becomes absurd to get a big head about it. Because really, no one on the planet Earth knows as much about Superman as Mark Waid, or as much about the Shadow as Anthony Tollin, or as much about the Justice Society as Kurt Mitchell, or... well, you know. I daresay most of you who've gotten this far have already been ticking off the various topics about which you have acquired enough reading hours to claim black-belt expertise in.

It comes of being a reader. A love of reading is a great gift. And I remember vividly how mine got triggered into overdrive.

Superheroes were my gateway drug, but oddly enough, mine came from TV, not comics. Saturday morning's Superman-Aquaman Hour back in 1967 was a pretty seamless lead-in to the DC comics of the time. The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man cartoons were almost as easy a road in to the Marvel comics. And there were the Big Little Books from Whitman, as well.

That was where I learned that reading could be recreational and cool. That it was a way to keep going after the TV show was over with. But even so, my mother hated comic books so intensely and was so vociferous about it that I might have been scared off them at the beginning if I hadn't added 'real' books to the mix.

That came from a wonderful woman named Mrs. Lapidus. She was the youth librarian at our branch library, and she was brilliant at recommending the 'next book.' When I showed up all excited about Batman, she was right on top of it with Zorro and the Scarlet Pimpernel.

She was the one that showed me how to find the actual Burroughs novel Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, so I didn't have to fret over missing the conclusion in the comics.

Probably Mrs. Lapidus's greatest triumph in her efforts at stealth education was when she led me from Irwin Allen's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea to Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to accounts of the real-life U.S.S. Nautilus.

That fed an interest in naval adventure both real and fictional that persists to this day.

You don't see the genre that much in comics, sadly, but it's why I was ALL OVER the Titan Books edition of Battle Classics reprinting the run of HMS Nightshade, and why I am salivating over the new A Sailor's Story from Sam Glanzman.

She didn't just light that fire in me; she did it with dozens of other kids. What was Mrs. Lapidus's secret?

I'll tell you. It's so ridiculously obvious and simple that I feel like an idiot for even pointing it out. But I know after teaching in public schools myself for the last twenty years and specifically, from teaching a fiction-writing program for the last six or seven of those, that this is something that is actually almost never put in practice.

Here it is. Mrs. Lapidus never, ever acted judgemental about my interests. She never suggested I should try books that were 'more serious,' or mocked me for liking the things that I liked. As a result, I didn't find out until the second or third grade that there was supposed to be some sort of qualitative difference between the Thor in comic books and the Thor in the book about Norse myth. Or that D'Artagnan was somehow better than James West. Or that stories about Jules Verne's Nautilus fighting monsters were more important than irwin Allen's Seaview fighting monsters. I never cared about that and Mrs. Lapidus never let on that she did either.

By the time I did find out that there was a hierarchy of literary merit to these things, it was too late. I had the bug. I knew that the cool stories lived in books and that books were infinitely portable.

Comics were a gateway to pretty much everything for me, and I was blessed to have an adult in my life who could see that and use it to teach me something, instead of just issuing the same blanket condemnation of 'that junk' I always got from my mother. I often wonder if more educators had the same reading-is-reading approach that Mrs. Lapidus did, if we met kids where they ARE instead of scolding them about where they should be... if we adopted that as a philosophy, then maybe reading might have more attraction for people as adults. It certainly worked for me back in 1967, and it works for my students today.

See you next week.

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