Reaching Out with Reaching First

Klasky-ReachingFirst200x300Like most of us who stop by Book View Cafe, I can’t imagine living without books. I keenly remember my Dick and Jane readers, and all my memories of childhood are illustrated with the books I was reading at the time events transpired. I’ve met most of my close friends through shared love of books, and I knew my husband was my perfect Match.com match when he also listed The Lord of the Rings as the most influential book in his life.

Imagine my challenge, then, as I set out to write a character who cannot read.

Sure, I’ve known people who can’t read. My nephews, for example, didn’t read until they were in kindergarten. Before then, we’d snuggle in chairs, and they’d pick out the letters they knew, and we’d play with books. But anyone of school age or older? An adult? Someone who had a visceral reaction against reading, a discomfort and shame that isolated him from large swaths of society? I couldn’t place myself in those shoes.

But I had to. Because Tyler Brock, the first baseman for my imaginary Raleigh Rockets baseball team, isn’t able to read. He’s hidden that fact all of his adult life, but his secret is catching up with him. It influences who he is and what he does on a daily basis. He has a vast array of coping strategies, but when he’s plucked from the safety and security of his home community and transplanted to his new team, all those means of dealing evaporate.

Years ago, I became a tutor for adults who could not read. I went through months of training, and I was certified to teach. I was prepared to bring the joy of books to my students, to watch them make their way through the first story they wanted to read to their children, their grandchildren. I was excited to see them make sense out of a written world that had always been hidden from them.

At last, I was assigned a student. An 87-year-old woman who’d grown up in the Deep South, Loretta* had left school in the second grade to care for her siblings after her mother died. She’d worked for years in an entry-level clerk job with the federal government, and she was able to read basic words, phrases, and sentences. Loretta actually wanted to learn how to use computers. She wanted to write down her life story for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

I taught Loretta the basics of word processing, and she created a memoir that she shared with her family.  I was pleased to be able to help her. But events conspired shortly after that, and I left the tutoring program, and I never did teach an adult learner how to read.

I guess my wayward first baseman, Tyler Brock, is a way for me to apply the training I completed so long ago. With him, I had a student who suffered for his inability, whose life had been carved into unexpected shapes as he struggled in a world that is increasingly geared to the printed word. I loved working out Tyler’s struggles — especially when I could factor in a healthy dose of spicy romance to help him along the way. I hope that you enjoy reading Tyler’s story as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Reaching First is the third book in the Diamond Brides Series. The first two are Perfect Pitch and Catching Hell. All three volumes are published together in an omnibus edition, Triple Play I. (The books can be read in any order.) USAToday said about Perfect Pitch: “This introduction to Mindy Klasky’s Diamond Brides series is a heartfelt, conflict-ridden story as irresistible as its characters. It’s also a whole lot of sexy, savvy fun….Super-strong conflict, a naughty, tongue-in-cheek tone and the occasional sweet surprise all put Perfect Pitch firmly in the you gotta read this category. Klasky’s writing is top-notch, her pacing swift and sure.”

*Not her real name.

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Reaching Out with Reaching First — 4 Comments

  1. A thumbs up on this one. I know a few people who have hidden their inability to read. I know others who are almost proud of the fact they were not “allowed” the education because they had to fulfill their moral duty to stay home and take care of sick relatives. Martyr complex.

    Most reassuring, my brother has made friends with a Latino family. Mom brought her daughter when she came to clean his house. Big brother taught the little girl to read while Mom worked. Now in her teens she’s in the top of her class. Now Dad comes to big brother with bank forms and green card renewals, even notes from school about the kids. He has learned to read much better from these sessions. In Mexico none of their families read. Never saw he importance or had the opportunity for education. But in this country it is important and I’m happy to see at least some of our immigrant neighbors seeking the help they need.

  2. My mother used to teach adults to read, too. It’s an incredibly important task, and the more awareness there is of how illiteracy can damage lives, the better.
    And I am looking forward to reading this (and grateful that I can).

  3. Kari – I literally can’t imagine what it would be like to not be able to read. (And yes, that made it a challenge to tell Tyler’s story!)