Go ahead, you can say it. The image accompanying this blog post looks like a book that’s been through a war. Well, not quite.
I salvaged Four Stars from the World of Sports from a flood in my apartment, due to a Calcutta-like downpour a few years ago. I had to keep this book from my childhood. I realized, even if not explicitly until now, that it held a certain significance to me. I believe it is the first sports book, and perhaps the first “real” book after a diet of Green Eggs and Ham and others like Charlotte’s Web, that I had read on my own.
I recall my mother buying it for me at my elementary school, P.S. 21 in Flushing. I think I was in third grade and I bought it at a book fair there. It featured some of the great athletes of the day from the four major sports, baseball’s Henry Aaron, football’s Roger Staubach, basketball’s Kareem Abdul Jabbar and hockey’s Bobby Orr.
Leafing through its time- and weather-beaten brown pages now, I remember some of its photos and illustrations, but I remember little, if anything, about the stories. One of my problems as a young boy was that I didn’t read very well, and had particular trouble with comprehension. But I do recall enjoying the book and learning about the lives of these sports idols.
One of my earliest memories of watching sports was rushing home one summer night to the living room in my parents’ second-floor apartment on 26th Avenue, as I watched on television Henry Aaron hit his historic 715 home run that broke Babe Ruth’s career record.
On that same set (probably a Zenith), I vaguely recall watching Joe Namath play football. I had already heard enough about the legendary quarterback to realize I was watching someone special. I remember vaguely that earlier that year I watched my first Super Bowl, when the Miami Dolphins defeated the Minnesota Vikings. That’s when I became a Dolphins' fan.
Since I didn’t read well as a young boy, so I didn’t read much. At that time, my interest in watching sports was in its fledgling state, so I don’t recall reading many or any other sports books after Four Stars. Maybe I did; maybe I didn’t—and if I did they didn’t make enough of an impression on me to save them. Four Stars did. Maybe because it was the first book I read in which I was offered (real-life) heroes.
My parents thought my reading problems had something to do with poor eyesight, so they bought me reading glasses. I thought this was totally senseless. There was nothing wrong with my eyes. At about that time, my parents brought me to a reading specialist, and she said I had dyslexia. I ditched the eyeglass, but mainly because wearing them wasn’t cool.
When I reflect back on this now, I realized my troubles could be traced and reduced to one main issue: motivation. Sure, when reading, I definitely mixed up letters and words, and that certainly made it a struggle; but it actually wasn’t until a few years later, when my parents observed my already intense interest in sports, that they got the bright idea to buy me a subscription to Sports Illustrated.
Their thinking was this: why not have him read about a subject that interests him? I remember the days of my mother working with me, having me read story after story in Reader’s Digest. I enjoyed some of the stories, especially one about a captain of a boat who remained calm through a storm that threatened to capsize the vessel and navigated through the squall. But it wasn’t until I started to read about sports that I read consistently and often, and my problems with reading just faded away.
That’s really the genesis of my love of reading that has endured to this day. I believe that seed was planted with this one book, Four Stars.